Despite the popular misconception, cryptocurrency may not be truly anonymous. The Intercept today published a story based on confidential National Security Agency documents, which claim that the NSA targeted bitcoin users through a government surveillance program code-named MONKEYROCKET.
The NSA access is part of a previously undisclosed program called OAKSTAR, which allows officials to collect a wide range of users’ information through a collection of covert corporate partnerships. The collected materials included bitcoin users’ password information, internet activity, and MAC address, among many others.
The secret document shows that the spy system facilitates extensive, in-depth surveillance on live communications and stored information. A foreign fiber cable site is also claimed to be part of the information-sharing program since its introduction in 2012. However, it is not clear what standards the agency has used to select targets.
The disclosures, based on documents provided by Edward J. Snowden, the former NSA contractor, reveal that the agency’s program “wielded at least one mysterious source of information to help track down senders and receivers of Bitcoins.”
The revelation also indicates that the NAS bitcoin tracking tapped network equipment to gather data from the Middle East, Europe, South America, and Asia, tracking internet users’ internet addresses, network ports, and timestamps to identify “BITCOIN Targets.”
Another top-secret passage, dating to March 2013, says that the information was collected with help of an unnamed software program that purported to offer anonymity to users. As security analyst told The Intercept he believes the “browsing product” component of MONKEYROCKET sounds a lot like a virtual private network (VPN).
But whatever the piece of software the agency has used, the documents show it functioned to trick bitcoin users into using a tool they thought would provide anonymity online but was actually funneling data directly to the NSA.
MONKEYROCKET was described in the documents as a “non-Western Internet anonymization service with a significant user base in Iran and China.” The NSA had implemented a “long-term strategy to attract targets toward using this browsing product,” which the agency can then exploit.
The scope of the spying program was later expanded beyond examining communications through the virtual currency’s underlying network (Blockchain) as the tracking process has also involved gathering intimate details of these users’ computers.