NSA Uses Cookies to Pinpoint Hacking Targets

Piggybacks on consumer tracking tools

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Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call / Getty Images

NSA surveillance protesters, organized by the 'Stop Watching Us' coalition, march from Union Station to the U.S. Capitol on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013, to voice opposition to government's surveillance of online activity and phone calls.

For years, privacy advocates have criticized the commercial use of “cookies” and other tools to track online customers — now it appears that the National Security Agency (NSA) has used these same methods to find targets for hacking operations.

According to documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the agency was especially fond of a Google-specific tracking mechanism called “PREF” that allows websites to identify a person’s browser, the Washington Post reports.

Once the NSA zeroes in on a target, this cookie allows them to send software that can hack that individual’s computer. Other documents reviewed by the Post indicate Google is aware of the practice.

The company has not yet commented on these latest revelations, but joined other tech firms in calling for an end to bulk collection of user data earlier this week.

[Washington Post]