America's National Security Agency has implanted secret surveillance software in nearly 100,000 computers around the world – but not in the US – allowing agents to spy on the machines, it is claimed.
Citing NSA documents, computer experts and US officials, the New York Times said the secret technology uses radio waves to gain access to computers that other countries have tried to protect from spying or cyber-attacks.
It said the technology, which has been used by the agency for several years, relies on radio waves that can be transmitted from tiny circuit boards and USB cards inserted covertly into the computers.
The NSA calls the effort an "active defence" and has used the technology to monitor units of the Chinese army, Russian military, drug cartels, trade institutions in the EU and sometimes US partners against terrorism including Saudi Arabia, India and Pakistan, according to the Times.
Among the most frequent targets of the NSA and US Cyber Command has been the Chinese army. The US has accused it of launching regular attacks on American industrial and military targets, often to steal secrets or intellectual property.
Parts of the programme have been disclosed in documents leaked by former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden, the Times said.