Monday, September 09, 2013

Latest Snowden leak reveals the NSA's love of smartphones

The latest set of revelations exploding from the Edward Snowden "archives" of NSA snooping came on Monday via a report from Der Spiegel (via CNet). While mostly just another ho-hum report about more NSA spying, the article is made most interesting by a tidbit about a highly publicized iOS "bug" that some pooh-poohed when it was exposed.

The article said:
The NSA analysts are especially enthusiastic about the geolocation data stored in smartphones and many of their apps, data that enables them to determine a user's whereabouts at a given time.

According to one presentation, it was even possible to track a person's whereabouts over extended periods of time, until Apple eliminated this "error" with version 4.3.3 of its mobile operating system and restricted the memory to seven days.
While not elaborating on the "error," the description is such that it points to the iOS geolocation bug that Apple fixed back in mid-2011, in -- indeed -- iOS 4.3.3.

In that case, iOS was caching the location of users' iPhones on a regular basis. The file would continue to grow and grow, and was unencrypted to boot.

The fact that the NSA was able to exploit this, apparently before it was publicized by researchers, goes to show how intensely the organization is looking that the devices that people are carrying with them everywhere: iPhones, iPads, and Android mobile devices.

The NSA, though, appears to feel the same about iPhone users as Android users do.

A detailed NSA presentation entitled, "Does your target have a smartphone?" has a series of three slides, which draw a comparison between the ability of the NSA to infiltrate smartphones and Orwell's "Big Brother." In a pair of slides, the authors ask "Who knew in 1984 ... that this would be Big Brother ...," referencing a photo of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.

Meanwhile, captionAnd commenting on photos of enthusiastic Apple customers and iPhone users, the NSA writes: "... and the zombies would be paying customers?"

According to this set of leaked documents, the NSA started working on ways to exploit smartphones, including BlackBerry, Android and the iPhone, which Apple has long claimed to be bulletproof, once the impact of next-generation devices (meaning, excluding old tech such as traditional BlackBerry and Windows Mobile) became clear.

Google was apparently right when it once said that complete privacy was a thing of the past. At the time, though, the company was addressing a lawsuit over its Google Street View service. Little did we know the statement went far further than that.

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