Monday, January 27, 2014

CSEC helps mine smartphones

The slide reproduced above, drawn from a GCHQ presentation dated 28 May 2010, reports that CSEC was working with GCHQ at that time on a suite of surveillance plugins for use with Android phones, part of a larger effort by UKUSA agencies to exploit smartphone data.

The slide was revealed by the Guardian as part of its report on the broader smartphone effort (James Ball, "NSA and GCHQ target 'leaky' phone apps like Angry Birds to scoop user data," Guardian, 27 January 2014). The New York Times and Pro Publica also reported on the program (James Glanz, Jeff Larson & Andrew W. Lehren, "Spy Agencies Scour Phone Apps for Personal Data," New York Times, 27 January 2014).

The reports from all three outlets focused mainly on the efforts of NSA and GCHQ "to take advantage of 'leaky' smartphone apps, such as the wildly popular Angry Birds game, that transmit users' private information across the internet".

According to the Guardian,
The data pouring onto communication networks from the new generation of iPhone and Android apps ranges from phone model and screen size to personal details such as age, gender and location. Some apps, the documents state, can share users' most sensitive information such as sexual orientation – and one app recorded in the material even sends specific sexual preferences such as whether or not the user may be a swinger. ...

Scooping up information the apps are sending about their users allows the agencies to collect large quantities of mobile phone data from their existing mass surveillance tools – such as cable taps, or from international mobile networks – rather than solely from hacking into individual mobile handsets.
The Guardian also reported on those more targeted efforts, however:
GCHQ's targeted tools against individual smartphones are named after characters in the TV series The Smurfs. An ability to make the phone's microphone 'hot', to listen in to conversations, is named "Nosey Smurf". High-precision geolocation is called "Tracker Smurf", power management – an ability to stealthily activate... a phone that is apparently turned off – is "Dreamy Smurf", while the spyware's self-hiding capabilities are codenamed "Paranoid Smurf".

Update 28 January 2014: Jim Bronskill, "Canadian eavesdropping agency helping Brits tame those 'Angry Birds'?," Canadian Press, 28 January 2014


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