We've known that the GCHQ has been poking its nose into our business for quite some time, and that the agency has even been tapping into foreign internet connections. Now it's been revealed that the agency has even been mapping the connections of entire countries to find any vulnerabilities.
Heise Online has obtained some documents which state that a GCHQ system known as Hacienda is able to scan every internet address in a country to see the connection types and any associated software that's being run. Once it's found any vulnerabilities, agents can break in to grab data, or they can set up malicious websites that trick users into compromising their computers. Apparently there's a system in place (known as Olympia) which can scan all the collected information in minutes, so that it doesn't have to be manually checked by GCHQ agents. As of 2009, five entire countries are reported to have been mapped by this system.
While anybody could theoretically do this, doing so would likely incur the wrath of law enforcement. But it's not that they can do it, it's really the scope of what the GCHQ is doing that is likely to raise concerns. [Heise Online via SlashGear]