Where is all this data coming from?
Rather than monitor each file sharing company individually, the documents hint at a “special source” known only by the codename ATOMIC BANJO, which is responsible for the collection of “HTTP metadata” from 102 known file sharing sites (Sendspace, Rapidshare, and the now-defunct Megaupload are the only three identified by name).
“‘Special Source’ typically refers to access to corporate data stores, or corporate data flows, so ISPs or data centers or something like that. Trans-atlantic cables,” said Christopher Parsons, a postdoctoral fellow at the Citizen Lab, which studies surveillance and other digital policy issues within the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. “Access is predicated on either contractual term or a monetary payment or something of that nature. Which is to say that someone or some individuals within the special source organizations are aware of what’s going on.”
As for CSE, a document released by German newspaper Der Spiegel earlier this month describes a “cyber threat detection platform” called EONBLUE. According to the document, EONBLUE had been under development for over eight years as of November 2010—the date the document was published—and is made up of over 200 sensors deployed across the globe using “collection programs including SPECIALSOURCE.”
What makes EONBLUE significant, said Parsons, is that we now know “Canada has sites around the world. And based on previous documents around special source operations, we quite often see large volumes of data being accessed. So it’s possible that EONBLUE is similarly used to access large quantities of data.”
One of EONBLUE’s capabilities is the collection of metadata. It is not clear whether the metadata collected from ATOMIC BANJO is related to the metadata produced by EONBLUE.
“It’s certainly possible, but there’s no definitive evidence, that would indicate a direct correlation,” Parsons said.