The American tech company Yahoo allegedly complied with U.S. intelligence agents asking to scan emails of some of its users. A Reuters report by the journalist Joseph Menn surfaced earlier on Tuesday claiming Yahoo had built software for the NSA to spy on all of its customers’ emails.
The report follows a massive security accident starring Yahoo on the receiving end of a 500-million account hack. Hackers reportedly compromised data from half a billion Yahoo mail accounts for a lengthy period that dates as far back as 2012.
While the company said it would take responsibility for the security breach, the extent of the hack remains unknown. The Sunnyvale company is also in the mid of selling its core business to Verizon Communications for $5 billion, but recent events could affect the agreement.
Yahoo’s CEO bypassed its security team
According to the report by Reuters, Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer allegedly took the decision to comply with the security agency’s request in spite of concerns by the company’s security staff.
Yahoo’s leadership not only agreed to grant the National Security Agency access to all of its users’ emails but also did so as a live feed.
To help them sort them through the excruciating amount of incoming live data, Mayer, and the board instructed engineers to code a program. The software piece automatically scanned thousands of emails being sent and received, and it has been active since mid-2015.
Reuters and several outlets point this date as a pivotal point for the company’s security history. The decision to allow the NSA spy on Yahoo’s customers could have had something to do with the former Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos parting ways with the tech giant.
Stamos arrived at Yahoo in 2014 and worked the top security position for over a year before leaving. He went on to become the Chief Security Officer at Facebook.
NSA’s surveillance on Yahoo users is unprecedented
Experts have noted the questionable practices by the NSA and Yahoo fell under a new category. Intelligence bodies of the U.S. government can request companies and service providers to hand over data, but there is no record of an instance in which an agency asks for live access to this data.
When Reuters asked Yahoo for comment, the soon to be Verizon-owned venture stated only the following: “Yahoo is a law-abiding company, and complies with the legislation of the United States.”
Further agents involved in the scandal emitted no official comments, including the NSA. The report counts with factual backing from five different parties formerly involved with Yahoo.