Canada’s spy agency monitors file downloads around the world

After NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden shared the documents he exfiltrated from the agency with select journalists, the revelations that stemmed from them have mostly focused on the spying and surveillance capabilities and actions of the US NSA and the UK GCHQ.

Maybe it’s because the journalists involved were mainly US and UK citizens, but the time has obviously come for them to shine a spotlight on the capabilities of the other members of the Five Eyes intelligence: Australia, New Zealand, and Canada.

It is about the latter’s intelligence agency – the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) – that the latest two reports by The Intercept are about. In the first one published on Monday, it has been revealed that Canadian spies, in partnership with British intelligence agents, have been collecting sensitive data on smartphone users around the world.

They gathered location information, device identifiers, IP address and other data through a program dubbed BADASS, which uses software filters to collect this information from unencrypted internet traffic when the smartphones and apps installed on them would send it to servers run by advertising and analytics companies.

This information can be used to discover the identity of users and their everyday movements, but also their habits and interests, information which could then be used against them in targeted attacks.

On Wednesday, another report has revealed that the Canadian agency is also tapping Internet cables to collect and analyze HTTP metadata of daily uploads and downloads to and from 102 popular file-sharing websites, including RapidShare, SendSpace, and MegaUpload (the document has been compiled in 2012, before the latter service was shuttered by law enforcement).

According to the document, the LEVITATION project would collect information about 10 to 15 million “free file upload” events per day, and the agency identified some 350 “interesting” downloads each month.

It is all done with the aim of detecting terrorist activity, but at the same time, information about regular users’ uploading and downloading activities are also collected, stored and analyzed.

The LEVITATION program is able to monitor these events in a number of countries in Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and North America. Since 2012, some of the file-sharing services have introduced encryption for when users connect to their sites, and this could theoretically thwart the usefulness of this collection, but there are many – especially the smaller ones – who haven’t gotten around to it.

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