Edward Snowden recently revealed more info about NSA spying on people via their wireless phones. This info was already out there, but when Snowden says it, people pay more attention (bbc.com, 10-5-15, “Edward Snowden interview: ‘Smartphones can be taken over’”)
Smartphone users can do “very little” to stop security services getting “total control” over their devices, US whistleblower Edward Snowden has said.
The former intelligence contractor told the BBC’s Panorama that UK intelligence agency GCHQ had the power to hack into phones without their owners’ knowledge.
Mr Snowden said GCHQ could gain access to a handset by sending it an encrypted text message and use it for such things as taking pictures and listening in…
Mr Snowden talked about GCHQ’s “Smurf Suite”, a collection of secret intercept capabilities individually named after the little blue imps of Belgian cartoon fame.
“Dreamy Smurf is the power management tool which means turning your phone on and off with you knowing,” he said.
“Nosey Smurf is the ‘hot mic’ tool. For example if it’s in your pocket, [GCHQ] can turn the microphone on and listen to everything that’s going on around you – even if your phone is switched off because they’ve got the other tools for turning it on.
“Tracker Smurf is a geo-location tool which allows [GCHQ] to follow you with a greater precision than you would get from the typical triangulation of cellphone towers…”
Once GCHQ had gained access to a user’s handset, Mr Snowden said the agency would be able to see “who you call, what you’ve texted, the things you’ve browsed, the list of your contacts, the places you’ve been, the wireless networks that your phone is associated with.
“And they can do much more. They can photograph you”.
Mr Snowden also explained that the SMS message sent by the agency to gain access to the phone would pass unnoticed by the handset’s owner.
“It’s called an ‘exploit’,” he said. “That’s a specially crafted message that’s texted to your number like any other text message but when it arrives at your phone it’s hidden from you. It doesn’t display. You paid for it [the phone] but whoever controls the software owns the phone.”
Describing the relationship between GCHQ and its US counterpart, he said: “GCHQ is to all intents and purposes a subsidiary of the NSA.
I posted a link to this story on Facebook and said I would be getting a pouch for my cell phone that acts as a Faraday cage in an attempt to block any attempts at being tracked, and it surprised me that a number of people didn’t know what I was on about. So I write this as a public service (and I readily admit I am not the first to do so!)
A Faraday cage is an enclosure that blocks electrical signals. You can read more about them here. So the idea is that if you put your phone into a Faraday cage, no one who wishes to hack your phone (i.e., criminals, government, or government criminals) will be able to do so while the phone is in that Faraday cage. A great video of how this works can be seen in this video put together by the makers of the Block-It Pocket:
Seems pretty promising, and it’s way past time that I picked one up for everyone in my family. There are of course other manufacturers of these pouches:
The Block-It Pocket:
The Off Pocket:
There’s even Kill Your Phone, a site that provides instructions on how to make the Faraday pouches with a group of friends:
“KILLYOURPHONE.COM is an open workshop format. Participants are invited to make their own signal blocking phone pouch. In the pouch the phone can’t send or receive any signals. It is dead! This workshop was run for the first time at the Chaos Communication Congress in Hamburg end of 2013. You can run this workshop yourself at your place with friends and neighbors, at the school, community center etc… Protect your privacy! Discuss surveillance and learn how to sew!
I am a Berlin based artist and I like to make projects about the Internet & computers and their impact on society.(see also Silver Cell phone pouch 2004)
Aram Bartholl 2014.”
When I get mine, I’ll report back with a review. Feel free to do the same in the comments below when you get yours, or if you already have one.