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[liberationtech] PRISM: NSA/FBI Internet data mining project

michael gurstein gurstein at
Fri Jun 7 10:06:20 PDT 2013

So what if it was a one character typo? "m" substituted for "b"... happens
all the time in these kinds of presentations...


-----Original Message-----
From: liberationtech-bounces at
[mailto:liberationtech-bounces at] On Behalf Of Eugen Leitl
Sent: Friday, June 07, 2013 12:42 PM
To: Liberation Technologies; cypherpunks at; info at;
zs-p2p at
Subject: Re: [liberationtech] PRISM: NSA/FBI Internet data mining project

----- Forwarded message from Matthew Petach <mpetach at> -----

Date: Fri, 7 Jun 2013 09:32:53 -0700
From: Matthew Petach <mpetach at>
Cc: NANOG <nanog at>
Subject: Re: PRISM: NSA/FBI Internet data mining project

On Thu, Jun 6, 2013 at 5:04 PM, Matthew Petach <mpetach at>wrote:

> On Thu, Jun 6, 2013 at 4:35 PM, Jay Ashworth <jra at> wrote:
>> Has fingers directly in servers of top Internet content companies, 
>> dates to 2007.  Happily, none of the companies listed are transport
>> networks:
>> ata-from-nine-us-internet-companies-in-broad-secret-program/2013/06/0
>> 6/3a0c0da8-cebf-11e2-8845-d970ccb04497_story.html
>> Cheers,
>> -- jra
>> --
>> Jay R. Ashworth                  Baylink
>> jra at
>> Designer                     The Things I Think                       RFC
>> 2100
>> Ashworth & Associates         2000 Land
>> Rover DII
>> St Petersburg FL USA               #natog                      +1 727
>> 647 1274
> I've always just assumed that if it's in electronic form, someone else 
> is either reading it now, has already read it, or will read it as soon 
> as I walk away from the screen.
> Much less stress in life that way.  ^_^
> Matt

When I posted this yesterday, I was speaking somewhat tongue-in-cheek,
because we hadn't yet made a formal statement to the press.  Now that we've
made our official reply, I can echo it, and note that whatever fluffed up
powerpoint was passed around to the washington post, it does not reflect
reality.  There are no optical taps in our datacenters funneling information
out, there are no sooper-seekret backdoors in the software that funnel
information to the government.  As our formal reply
stated: "Yahoo does not provide the government with direct access to its
servers, systems, or network."
I believe the other major players supposedly listed in the document have
released similar statements, all indicating a similar lack of super-cheap
government listening capabilities.

Speaking just for myself, and if you quote me on this as speaking on anyone
else's behalf, you're a complete fool, if the government was able to build
infrastructure that could listen to all the traffic from a major provider
for a fraction of what it costs them to handle that traffic in the first
place, I'd be truly amazed--and I'd probably wonder why the company didn't
outsource their infrastruture to the government, if they can build and run
it so much more cheaply than the commercial providers.  ;P
7 companies were listed; if we assume the burden was split roughly evenly
between them, that's 20M/7, about $2.85M per company per year to tap in, or
about $238,000/month per company listed, to supposedly snoop on hundreds of
gigs per second of data.  Two ways to handle it: tap in, and funnel copies
of all traffic back to distant monitoring posts, or have local servers
digesting and filtering, just extracting the few nuggets they want, and
sending just those back.

Let's take the first case; doing optical taps, or other form of direct
traffic mirroring, carrying it untouched offsite to process; that's going to
mean the ability to siphon off hundreds of Gbps per datacenter and carry it
offsite for $238k/month; let's figure a major player has data split across
at least 3 datacenters, so about $75K/month per datacenter to carry say
300Gbps of traffic.  It's pretty clearly going to have to be DWDM on dark
fiber at that traffic volume; most recent quotes I've seen for dark fiber
put it at $325/mile for already-laid-in-ground (new builds are considerably
more, of course).  If we figure the three datacenters are split around just
the US, on average you're going to need to run about 1500 miles to reach
their central listening post; that's $49K/month just to carry the bitstream,
which leaves you just about $25K/month to run the servers to digest that
data; at 5c/kwhr, a typical server pulling 300 watts is gonna cost you
$11/month to run; let's assume each server can process 2Gbps of traffic,
constantly; 150 servers for the stream of 300Gbps means we're down to $22K
for the rest of our support costs; figure two sysadmins getting paid
$10k/month to run the servers (120k annual salary), and you've got just $2k
for G&A overhead.

That's a heck of an efficient operation they'd have to be running to listen
in on all the traffic for the supposed budget number claimed.

I'm late for work; I'll follow up with a runthrough of the other model,
doing on-site digestion and processing later, but I think you can see the
point--it's not realistic to think they can handle the volumes of data being
claimed at the price numbers listed.  If they could, the major providers
would already be doing it for much cheaper than they are today.  I mean, the
Utah datacenter they're building is costing them $2B to build; does anyone
really think if they're overpaying that much for datacenter space, they
could really snoop on provider traffic for only $238K/month?

More later--and remember, this is purely my own rampant speculation, I'm not
speaking for anyone, on behalf of anyone, or even remotely authorized or
acknowledged by any entity on this rambling, so please don't go quoting this
anywhere else, it'll make you look foolish, and probably get me in trouble
anyhow.  :(


----- End forwarded message -----
Eugen* Leitl <a href="">leitl</a>
ICBM: 48.07100, 11.36820
AC894EC5: 38A5 5F46 A4FF 59B8 336B  47EE F46E 3489 AC89 4EC5
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