The National Security Agency has installed software on nearly 100,000 computers around the world to conduct surveillance on them, according to a report in The New York Times.
According to the report, no software from the program has been installed on computers in the United States.
The program uses radio technology to gain access to and alter information on some computers even when they are not connected to the Internet. The Times noted that the radio devices must be physically installed by a spy, a manufacturer or the user. They usually come in the form of a USB card or a small circuit board.
The Chinese Army has been the most frequent target of the attacks. The NSA describes the program as more defensive than offensive, and said it is a tool to monitor and shutdown networks that could be used for cyberattacks against the United States.
The Times reports the software has also been installed in some Russian military networks. Others that have been monitored include the Mexican police and drug cartels, and countries like Saudi Arabia, India, Pakistan and Iran.
For example, the operation in 2010 dubbed Stuxnet — in which the United States used the technology to gain access and map out an Iranian nuclear facility — was one of the first major tests of the technology, according to the Times.
“N.S.A.'s activities are focused and specifically deployed against — and only against — valid foreign intelligence targets in response to intelligence requirements,” Vanee Vines, an agency spokeswoman, said in a statement to the Times. “We do not use foreign intelligence capabilities to steal the trade secrets of foreign companies on behalf of — or give intelligence we collect to — U.S. companies to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line.”
The report is based on interviews with officials and NSA documents, some of them leaked by former contractor Edward Snowden. President Obama is set to lay out a series of reforms to the agency in a major speech on Friday.