“Who here has an iPhone? Who here has a BlackBerry? Who here uses Gmail? Well, you’re all screwed,” said WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in a speech delivered at City University in London. Assange, reports ZDNET, was referring to a collection of 287 documents called the Spyfiles, which reveal a chilling discovery: Your iPhone could be spying on you.
According to Assange, over 150 private organizations spanning 25 countries can easily take over your phone, track your movements, intercept private email and text messages, phone calls, and browser history, record conversations and more, all without the user every being aware. Some of these organizations can even send fake messages and data from your device.
ZDNET explains that the technology was developed in the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom, by surveillance companies who provide the technology to military and other organizations.
Surveillance companies […] manufacture viruses (Trojans) that hijack individual computers and phones (including iPhones, Blackberries and Androids), take over the device, record its every use, movement, and even the sights and sounds of the room it is in. Other companies […] collaborate with the military to create speech analysis tools. They identify individuals by gender, age and stress levels and track them based on ‘voiceprints’. Blue Coat in the U.S. and Ipoque in Germany sell tools to governments in countries like China and Iran to prevent dissidents from organizing online.
One of the more comprehensive spying tools, called FinFisher (which is sold to police and government agencies), is delivered by a fake iTunes update, taking advantage of a security hold that Apple reportedly knew about for years (according to CultofMac), but only recently fixed by releasing iTunes 10.5.1.
Security companies like FinFisher claim the software is legal, and that they “don’t know of any abuses.” The Washington Post reports, however, that there is evidence that the spyware has been used to surveil political activists, and that oppressive regimes often use the software to spy on their own citizens on order to discover and destroy peaceful political protests or rebellions.
While security companies and government agencies all insist that it is not being used for nefarious purposes that they know of, the evidence suggests otherwise, and that fact that this software is being developed and controlled by private organizations, and essentially to anyone who can afford to buy it, should be a matter of concern to anyone that uses phones or computers.
All I can say is that I find this both fascinating and mortifying – fascinated that technology like this is legal, and that nobody seems to have batted an eye over the potential of abuse, and mortifying in that it can be used to track and surveil anyone without their knowledge.
Now that we have this bombshell in our minds, the Carrier ID controversy doesn’t seem quite so bad.