Yes, Germany BND foreign intelligence service can spy on the world’s biggest internet exchange

Pierluigi Paganini June 01, 2018

This week, a federal court has ruled that Germany’s BND foreign intelligence service can monitor major internet hubs for strategic security interests.

Recently, the operator of the world’s top Internet Hub sued the BND foreign intelligence service for the surveillance activity conducted by the spy agency.

The operator wants to be sure that the agency is not violating any law by monitoring German domestic communications as well as tapping international traffic through the De-Cix exchange.

The De-Cix exchange is the world’s biggest internet exchange based in Frankfurt and represents a privileged position for traffic monitoring,

The hub sees more than six terabytes per second at peak traffic from China, Russia, the Middle East and Africa.

The Federal court of Leipzig ruled that internet hubs “can be required by the federal interior ministry to assist with strategic communications surveillance by the BND”.

The hub is operated by the De-Cix Management GmbH, which is owned by the European internet industry organization eco Association.

The European eco Associationh body filed suit against Germany’s interior ministry against its surveillance activities.

“We consider ourselves under obligation to our customers to work towards a situation in which strategic surveillance of their telecommunications only takes place in a legal manner.” states the body.

The mutual support of the US NSA intelligence agency and the BND was largely documented in the past.

In June 2015, Wikileaks released another collection of documents on the extended economic espionage activity conducted by the NSA in Germany. At the time, the cyberspies were particularly interested in the Greek debt crisis. The US intelligence targeted German government representatives due to their privileged position in the negotiations between Greece and the UE.

In August 2015, the German weekly Die Zeit disclosed documents that reveal how the German Intelligence did a deal with the NSA to get the access to the surveillance platform XKeyscore.

Internal documents reported that Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), received the software program XKeyscore from the NSA in return of data from Germany.

Back in 2o11, the NSA demonstrated the capabilities of the XKeyscore platform of the BfV agency. After two years of negotiation, the BfV signed an agreement to receive the NSA spyware software and install it for analyzing metadata collected on German citizens. In return, the German Agency promised to share metadata collected.

The NSA tool collects ‘nearly everything a user does on the internet’, XKeyscore gives ‘widest-reaching’ collection of online data analyzing the content of emails, social media, and browsing history.

In 2013, documents leaked by Edward Snowden explained that a tool named DNI Presenter allows the NSA to read the content of stored emails and it also enables the intelligence analysts to track the user’s activities on Facebook through a system dubbed XKeyscore. 

XKeyscore map used also by BND


According to Die Zeit, the document “Terms of Reference” stated“The BfV will: To the maximum extent possible share all data relevant to NSA’s mission”.

In June 2016, the German government approved new measures to rein in the activities of BND agency after its scandalous support to NSA surveillance activity.

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Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs – BND, De-Cix exchange)

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