Sensitive data from every major brand of cell phone can be captured and analyzed by the U.S. National Security Agency, (NSA) according to a report in the German magazine Der Spiegel on Saturday.
Citing “top-secret, internal NSA documents viewed by SPIEGEL reporters, the magazine said that NSA security researchers have developed tools to sap contact lists, SMS traffic, notes and location information from popular devices such as Apple’s iPhone, Google’s Android and Blackberry phones, including Blackberry e-mail, a supposedly secure system that is one of the phone’s most trumpeted features.
The documents describe a large-scale and well-organized program within the NSA to obtain data from mobile devices, with discrete teams of security analysts working on a specific platform, developing malware that infiltrates the computers the phones “synch” with, and then loads scripts onto the phones that provide access to a range of other features.
Spiegel declined to describe the documents its reporters had viewed, or their source. It is not clear whether they were provided by Edward Snowden, the former Booz Allen Hamilton contractor who pilfered reams of classified documents detailing the NSA’s global and domestic cyber surveillance operations. The magazine did acknowledge that the agency did not appear to be engaged in large-scale spying on mobile devices, preferring “targeted” attacks on individuals, often without the knowledge of the smart phone manufacturer.
Speaking at the Black Hat Briefings in Las Vegas last month, Direction of National Intelligence General Keith Alexander encouraged the audience to “trust” the NSA to use restraint with its PRISM program. Alexander claimed that PRISM had contributed directly to the disruption of 53 of 54 discrete “terrorist related activities” in the U.S., Europe, Asia and Africa since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. , painting a picture of the U.S. as a vulnerable and victimized nation inhabited by unknown terrorists who “use our communications and live among us.”
However, the ‘drip, drip, drip’ of revelations about the extent of the NSA’s spying on the communications of citizens of foreign countries, and even U.S. citizens has undermined that message. Most recently, the New York Times published details of how the secretive spy agency has been working for close to a decade to undermine the encryption that is used to protect many types of Internet communications.
The NSA invested billions of dollars in a program dubbed “Bullrun,” clandestine campaign to preserve its ability to eavesdrop, using supercomputers to break encryption and partnering with technology providers and telecommunications companies to gain back door access to their systems.