January 1, 2014
Your Smartphone May Be An NSA Surveillance Tool
Bryan P. Carpender for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
What is the latest weapon in the National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance arsenal? Chances are, you have one, it fits in the palm of your hand and you may even be using it right now.
Forbes reports that, according to an NSA document dated 2008, “DROPOUT JEEP is a software implant for the Apple iPhone that utilizes modular mission applications to provide specific SIGINT functionality. This functionality includes the ability to remotely push/pull files from the device. SMS retrieval, contact list retrieval, voicemail, geolocation, hot mic, camera capture, cell tower location, etc. Command, control and data exfiltration can occur over SMS messaging or a GPRS data connection. All communications with the implant will be covert and encrypted.”
APPLE, BLACKBERRY AND ANDROID DEVICES ALL TARGETED
The NSA is claiming a 100 percent success rate in the installation of this malware on iPhone handsets. While the agency’s success at cracking the iPhone case is both impressive and unsettling, the Apple manufactured smartphone is hardly the only device targeted by the NSA. Devices for Android and BlackBerry have also been subjected to the NSA’s scrutiny.
If you are one of the more than 130 million people in the US who have a smartphone, odds are, the NSA can access your device. The smartphone is a powerful technological innovation, no doubt about it. They put a tremendous amount of information in the palm of your hand, literally.
SMARTPHONES A ONE-STOP SHOP FOR INTELLIGENCE INFO
You might consider your smartphone an extension of yourself. To the NSA, it represents an intelligence goldmine – a single device containing nearly everything that would be of interest to an intelligence agency.
Think about all the personal data, contact lists, information about your personal interests (think about your search terms) and even sensitive information such as account numbers and passwords that you might have on your smartphone. And don’t forget about all those photos, text messages and emails. It all adds up to a veritable treasure trove of information in one convenient location.
ARE SMARTPHONE MANUFACTURERS COMPLICIT IN SPYING?
According to Forbes reporter Erik Kain, during a speech at the 30th Chaos Communication Congress in Germany, Applebaum addressed the issue of corporate involvement in the NSA’s programs: “Do you think Apple helped them build that? I don’t know. I hope Apple will clarify that…Here’s a problem: I don’t really believe that Apple didn’t help them. I can’t really prove it, but they [the NSA] literally claim that anytime they target an iOS device, that it will succeed for implantation. Either they have a huge collection of exploits that work against Apple products, meaning that they are hoarding information about critical systems that American companies produce and sabotaging them, or Apple sabotaged it themselves. Not sure which one it is. I’d like to believe that since Apple didn’t join the PRISM program until after Steve Jobs died, that maybe it’s just that they write [expletive deleted] software.”
CRACKING THE SMARTPHONE CODE
Initially, ensuring NSA access to smartphones proved to be a nearly insurmountable task, as the then emerging technology was evolving and changing at an exponentially rapid rate. According to documents, the NSA set up separate task forces for the leading smartphone manufacturers and operating systems.
Specialized teams were tasked with studying every nook and cranny of both Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android operating systems. Through diligent work, the teams all met with success.
FROM A DISTANCE
Initially, the NSA had to have physical access to a device in order to implant the required malware to grant access, but they were already working on a method to remotely load it onto devices.
It seems they succeeded in remotely accessing devices, as evidenced by a 2012 photo of a former senior government official of a foreign country. The photo was captured from his device as he sat on the sofa at home, taking pictures of himself with his iPhone.
The NSA can access the iPhone’s camera and microphone to gather intelligence, plus the iOS and countless apps use geotagging capabilities to provide detailed information about a user’s location. Just something to keep in mind.
The department spearheading this surveillance is the TAO (Tailored Access Operations) – a group composed of over 1,000 of the NSA’s most elite hackers. NSA officials issued a statement saying, "Tailored Access Operations is a unique national asset that is on the front lines of enabling NSA to defend the nation and its allies. TAO’s work is centered on computer network exploitation in support of foreign intelligence collection."
It seems that for the most part, people are not particularly phobic about government snooping on their smartphones – even if their phone’s camera and microphone can be accessed. Most users are more concerned with losing reception than with any Orwellian undertones.
While the leaked documents do not contain specific mention of large-scale spying on smartphone users, it’s pretty much a given that if a specific smartphone is identified as a target, the NSA will gain access to its information.
You might want to keep that in mind as you take your next batch of selfies. Or engage in your car-aoke vocal stylings. Big Brother could be watching. And listening.