The NSA has used malware to extend its surveillance reach overseas, according to a new report. Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsbad has claimed that the NSA infected more than 50,000 computers with software capable of accessing and stealing sensitive data.

Documents made public by Edward Snowden revealed that the agency has used malicious software to attack computers around the globe since as early as 2008. The data thefts are perpetrated by the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations branch, which has the capability to control whether the malware is active or not.

The mechanism, called Computer Network Exploitation, entails "enabling actions and intelligence collection via computer networks that exploit data gathered from target or enemy information systems or networks," according to the NSA’s own description of the endeavor.

Five years ago, some 20,000 machines were infected with the so-called ‘sleeper cell’ malware. Since then, that number has more than doubled and is expected to reach 85,000 by the end of this year. This latest report essentially substantiates claims by the Washington Post earlier this year about just how insidious and expansive the NSA’s spying program is. Yikes.

[via The Verge]