Francesco Tacchini

About ⬿ Projects

SPOOK-I

SPOOK-I is a hypothetical but operative US National Security Agency inspired machine. It mimics two surveillance techniques available to the NSA Tailored Access Operations unit, in order to expose the technology employed by the control society. The work attempts to investigate the power structures and procedures of State surveillance by directly experiencing them.
SPOOK-I works as a wireless jammer¹ and sniffer². The machine pushes an @nsa.gov email* to devices nearby. The email is received only after momentarily blocking all Internet connection by jamming the WiFi signal, and after exposing the owner's name on a nearby wall, alongside a spectrogram of the network being targeted.

The machine targets nearby devices by means of software encoded in high-pitch audio signals, which are barely audible by humans but easily detected by any consumer device equipped with a set of speakers and a microphone. This is an attempt to emulate the functioning of two top secret NSA programs: CANDYGRAM and SPOOK.

The work was inspired by the leak of a classified catalog published in December 2013 by German weekly news-magazine Der Spiegel. The documents exposed the powerful toolbox of the NSA and listed technology available to the Tailored Access Operations unit to aid in cyber surveillance.

In this sense, the work was an attempt at discussing the 'weaponization of everyday' in the wider frame of current understanding of technology. Often presented and accepted as magical, electronic tools and services hold unequal power over us, who cannot understand, imagine nor act within the technopolitical landscape of consumer electronics in an informed manner. Furthermore, by weaponizing everyday devices such as phones, the NSA and other State agencies further deteriorate our already unequal relationship to these objects.
From: SPOOK-I@nsa.gov
To: ******@network.rca.ac.uk
Subject: ******, you are now under NSA surveillance

Hi ******,
this device is now under surveillance: you have been added onto a radio frequency controlled by the US National Security Agency.
This is a top-secret operation called CANDYGRAM and it was exposed, together with other NSA bulk-surveillance program, in 2013. During June 2013, Edward Snowden, a former United States National Security Agency contractor, disclosed secret documents detailing a number of surveillance programs. Snowden leaked a series of files to news agencies in response to what he described as the ‘systematic surveillance of innocent citizens’ worldwide.
In December 2013, German weekly news-magazine Der Spiegel published an article exposing the NSA toolbox: a 50-page classified catalog listing technology available to the NSA Tailored Access Operations unit to aid in cyber surveillance.
Among the agency’s surveillance efforts are CANDYGRAM, a device that mimics a cell-phone tower to intercept signals from mobile devices, and SPOOK, a family of softwares that infect a target’s phone using high frequency audio signals. SPOOK-I specifically removes a target’s device from its network to then implement CANDYGRAM. The leaked documentation for CANDYGRAM and SPOOK-I is attached to this email and accessible as part of the 'POSSESSED OBJECTS' exhibition.
For more information on the work or to discuss the global surveillance disclosures, please reply to this email.
¹ Civilian radio frequency jamming is illegal in the UK. It is intended that no use of such device is allowed outside the gallery setting. It is also intended that audiences are fully aware that close proximity to it will result in the impossibility of accessing the network.
² Audiences are aware that by using their email address to join the WiFi network they grant permission to temporarily store such addresses, then accessed by SPOOK-I via the nearest router.

⤳ Credits

Thanks to Paul Cross of the Royal College of Art for his great network assistance.