A report by The Guardian newspaper revealed that the UK Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) stepped up spying on the South African foreign ministry in December 2005 to gain access to the South African ministry of foreign affairs’ network.
According to the report the GCHQ was tasked with ‘collecting intelligence from target machines’ and to ‘find more access points to increase reliability’.
The GCHQ is one of the three UK Intelligence Agencies and forms a part of the UK’s National Intelligence and Security machinery.
The GCHQ, based in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire in the UK, provides intelligence, protects information and informs relevant UK policy to “keep our society safe and successful in the Internet age”.
The Guardian reported that the spying was not based on suspicious activity by South African diplomats, but rather to find out more about the negotiating position of the SA government – which included information shared in G20 and G8 meetings.
The “computer networks exploitation” (CNE) team apparently dug up old phone numbers and email addresses of the head of the cryptology department in Pretoria, and the passwords acquired were then “used to hack into the online accounts of South African diplomats”.
The “CNE team set up a series of back doors into the ministry networks ‘to increase reliability’ of the hacking operation,” the Guardian reported.
These reports form part of the revelations made by the security whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Sky News reported that Snowden, who gave an interview to The Guardian newspaper, said that “GCHQ agents monitored phones and set up fake internet cafes to intercept the communications of foreign delegations”.
The Sky News report stated that some of the foreign delegates’ “Blackberrys were apparently hacked so that phone calls and emails could be monitored”.
South Africa, a traditional ally to the UK, featured prominently as a target of the GCHQ spying.