Levitation program tracked file-sharing sites, Snowden doc shows

The Canadian spy agency CSE monitors activity across over 100 free file upload sites, a newly-revealed PowerPoint document from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s cache has shown.

The document describing CSE’s Levitation program was published on Wednesday by The Intercept, reporting alongside Canadian broadcaster CBC. Although Canada has long been known to be a member of the core Anglophone “Five Eyes” spying club, this is the first Snowden revelation putting it at the forefront of one of the Eyes’ mass surveillance programs.

Using an internet cable-tap program called Atomic Banjo, CSE’s agents were at the time of the presentation’s authoring collecting HTTP metadata for 102 cyberlocker sites, including Sendspace and Rapidshare, and tracking 10-15 million “events” each day to find “about 350 interesting download events per month.” And yes, this meant filtering out loads of TV shows and such.

According to the presentation, the technique yielded a “German hostage video” (the hostage was killed, according to The Intercept) and an “AQIM [Algerian al-Qaeda] hostage strategy”.

In total, there were 2,200 file addresses that effectively acted as traps once CSE had identified them. Once the agents have an IP address for someone downloading a suspect file, they then run a query on it through GCHQ’s Mutant Broth tool to see which ad cookies have been tracking them (insecure marketing technologies provide an easy vehicle for spying efforts), what their likely Facebook ID is, and so on.

SendSpace told CBC that no-one had permission to trawl its service for data, and internet policy lawyer Tamir Israel told the broadcaster that the program was potentially very intrusive, as CSE (known until last year as CSEC) could pick whichever documents it wanted.

For Now, No Net Neutrality for Canadians

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has rejected a plea by smaller ISPs to immediately stop Bell Canada from blocking BitTorrent traffic. Canadian providers requested such a step from the commission after Bell Canada started to use Comcast-type network management practices on its wholesale accounts, meaning it blocked BitTorrent uploads from users that weren’t even Bell Canada customers.

The issue quickly became Canada’s own Net Neutrality debate. It was fueled by the fact that Bell started to block P2P traffic right around the time that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) published its first show via BitTorrent online. CBC itself has stayed silent on the issue, but consumer advocacy groups sided with the smaller ISPs. There’s still hope for this new coalition: The CRTC declared that it will start a broader inquiry into Net Neutrality and network management issues this week.

Read More about For Now, No Net Neutrality for Canadians