US penetrates Russian surveillance system used by FSB

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More than 10 years ago, the US special services could have hacked SORM, a Russian hardware and software system for monitoring telephone conversations, text messages and all message exchanges by residents of the Russian Federation on the Internet.

Source: Jacob Appelbaum, American hacker and journalist, who had access to Edward Snowden's leaked documents from the US National Security Agency (NSA), in his dissertation, which was studied by Meduza

Quote from Meduza: "If this really happened (and there are reasons to believe so), information about the private lives of ordinary Russians was obtained not only by the Russian authorities, but also by the American ones."

Details: Jacob Appelbaum claims that previously unpublished Edward Snowden documents refer to the hacking of Russian SORM by US intelligence services. This follows from Appelbaum’s dissertation, "Communication in a World of Pervasive Surveillance," which was defended at the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands in March 2022.

Dissertation Excerpt: "Unpublished NSA (US National Security Agency – ed.) documents specifically point to the compromise of Russia's SORM 'lawful interception' infrastructure as an example of the NSA's success in compromising civilian telecommunications infrastructure to spy on targets within reach of the Russian SORM system. On the NSA slides, there is the inscription "You talk, we listen" written in Cyrillic on the jackets of two Russian officers."

Meduza believes that it refers to the period before 2013 when Snowden handed over the documents of the special services to journalists. In a footnote to this paragraph, Appelbaum cited a review of Snowden's unreleased documents as the source of the information without providing any references.

As the author said, these documents refer to NSA activities aimed at compromising "lawful interception" systems, as well as suppliers of such equipment or software.

There is no additional information about the hacking of the Russian SORM in the dissertation. The NSA slides with images of Russian officers in it or other sources have also not been published.

It is not known how SORM was hacked and what information about Russians could be accessed by American special services. The Russian SORM already at that time, i.e. in the period before Snowden's leak in 2013, represented several systems:

  • the first for listening to telephone conversations (SORM-1);

  • the second for tracking on the Internet (SORM-2);

  • the third for long-term storage of collected information (SORM-3).

NSA employees could gain access to only one of the systems but theoretically to all of them. The second option seems to be more difficult to implement because it would be necessary to compromise many types of equipment or software supplied for the Russian SORM at once.

Appelbaum did not answer Meduza's question.

Earlier, the anonymous author of the blog, dedicated to radio-electronic intelligence, communication and telecommunications security of the leaders of the US and other countries, drew attention to this dissertation (mainly, the blog analyses the activities of the US National Security Agency). In September 2023, a review of Appelbaum’s dissertation appeared on

Jacob Appelbaum was a very famous activist in the 2010s. Since 2008, he has been part of Cult of the Dead Cow, the oldest hacker group to date. In the 1980s its members essentially invented the concept of hacktivism – the use of hacking skills to promote social or political change. In 2010, Appelbaum was called the only known American who worked for Julian Assange's WikiLeaks project.

In 2011, after three months of litigation, the US Department of Justice forced Google to release Appelbaum’s Gmail account metadata to authorities as part of a criminal investigation into WikiLeaks. At the same time, the agency forbade the technology company to report this to the activist himself. The release of information became known only in 2015, when the relevant documents were made public by the court.

From at least 2013-2015, Appelbaum, along with other Western journalists and independent experts, was engaged in the study of the Snowden archives and published research on the activities of the NSA on the websites of Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR) and, in the magazine Der Spiegel and in the newspaper Le Monde.

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