Smartphone Data May Not Be Safe From The NSA
September 9, 2013

NSA Can Access Smartphone Data, According To German Media Reports

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

The US National Security Agency (NSA) has the ability to access user data on several popular types of smartphones, according to reports published by German news outlet Spiegel this weekend.

According to a September 7 article, the online version of the Hamburg-based weekly news magazine Der Spiegel claims to have seen “top secret NSA documents” that “explicitly note that the NSA can tap into such information on Apple iPhones, BlackBerry devices and Google's Android mobile operating system.”

“The documents state that it is possible for the NSA to tap most sensitive data held on these smart phones, including contact lists, SMS traffic, notes and location information about where a user has been,” they added. “The documents also indicate that the NSA has set up specific working groups to deal with each operating system, with the goal of gaining secret access to the data held on the phones.”

Furthermore, Frank Jordans of the Associated Press (AP) noted that the magazine claims the documents do not indicate that American security personnel are “conducting mass surveillance of phone users but rather that these techniques are used to eavesdrop on specific individuals.”

Nor do they explain how they obtained the information, though Jordans said that one of the authors is “Laura Poitras, an American filmmaker with close contacts to NSA leaker Edward Snowden who has published several articles about the NSA in Der Spiegel in recent weeks.”

What the documents apparently do contain, according to Deutsche Welle reporters, are passages in which NSA personnel brag about being able to access a computer used by one individual to synch his or her iPhone, then using scripts to gain access to 38 additional features of the Apple smartphone.

Furthermore, the agency also claims to have been able to access SMS content and other data on BlackBerry devices. Despite the company’s attempts to alter the way which it compressed data to make it more difficult for third-parties to access, a 2010 document claimed that they had managed to once again gain access to the Canadian firm’s mobile devices, reportedly celebrating the accomplishment with the word “champagne.”

“Smartphone makers, especially Apple, have claimed that agencies can’t read the encrypted messaging that are sent between devices of the same type (i.e. iMessage and BBM),” said Gregory Ferenstein of TechCrunch. “However, since those messages are sent through a company-owned server, it is possible that the NSA could have access them. If Der Spiegel’s report it true, it would be especially damaging to Blackberry, with its strong following in government.”

The activity was said to have been completed without the smartphone manufacturer’s knowledge or consent, according to CNET’s Steven Musil. The allegations follow a report published earlier this month suggesting that the NSA had developed a program capable of circumventing encryption methods designed to protect digital communications.

“Earlier reports have indicated that the NSA has the ability to record nearly all domestic and international phone calls - in case an analyst needed to access the recordings in the future,” the CNET night news editor reported on Sunday. “A Wired magazine article last year disclosed that the NSA has established ‘listening posts’ that allow the agency to collect and sift through billions of phone calls.”