One of the country’s two spy agencies has revealed it retrieves information directly from where it is stored or processed on computers.
The “computer network exploitation” operations have been a highly-classified secret at the GCSB until now.
US commentators refer to computer network exploitation as a form of cyber warfare, or the “theft of data”.
“Our legislation … allows us to access information infrastructures, which is more than just interception,” the Director-General of the Government Communications Security Bureau, Andrew Hampton, said.
It “also allows us to retrieve digital information directly from where it is stored or processed”.
The GCSB refers to this as “accessing information infrastructures”.
The spy watchdog, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, Brendan Horsley, cited Hampton’s speech to the Institute of International Affairs in May, for making the revelation.
This had freed Horsley up to be able to assure the public that the exploitation operations were scrutinised, he said in his annual report released on Friday.
Previously, he had had to refer to “certain operations”.
“Although it was subject to oversight, it was not possible to provide any clear public assurance of this.”
In fact, he had conducted a review that found the compliance systems around CNE “to be generally effective and appropriate”.
However, he was still not allowed to go into details “on the bureau’s use of this important capability”.