The idea behind the project is based on NSA slides obtained from wistleblower Edward Snowden (see below), which state that ‘much of the world’s communications flow through the U.S’, with the implication that any traffic which flows through the US is fair game for surveillance as far as the NSA is concerned.
The project therefore assumes that all traffic passing through the US or one of its ‘Five Eyes’ spying partners (UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) is snooped on by the NSA, and therefore sets out to determine how much traffic through one of these countries using the following methodology:
- ‘Choose a random list of target IP address
- For each country take all known traceroute gateways
- For each traceroute gateways test each target IP address (within a pool of 255 random IP with each of the 255 class A networks)
- If this route goes through one NSA-controlled country, mark the route as “bad”, otherwise the route is marked as good.
- Compute percentage over all routes for a given country (using multiple traceroute gateways hence hopefully multiple ISPs and operators to have meaningful results)’
This does not of course create a perfect picture of how internet traffic is routed (and known biases are listed on the website), but the results are fascinating, showing that globally ‘around 80% of the Internet is captured by NSA and allies.’
The reason for this is that internet traffic does not take the most direct route, but ‘the cheapest path’, so even when an email is sent from one Asian country to another (for example) using a non-US email service, it is still very likely to have passed through the communications systems of one of the Five Eyes countries, and therefor to have been subject to NSA scrutiny.
As an open source project, interested parties are encouraged to join in (especially if they can add traceroute results from counties where data is not yet available), although the devs will also happily accept contributions in bitcoins.