According to the documents, it set up task forces for the leading smartphone manufacturers and operating systems. Specialized teams began intensively studying Apple’s iPhone and its iOS operating system, as well as Google’s Android mobile operating system. Another team worked on ways to attack BlackBerry, which had been seen as an impregnable fortress until then.
The material contains no indications of large-scale spying on smartphone users, and yet the documents leave no doubt that if the intelligence service defines a smartphone as a target, it will find a way to gain access to its information.
First, let’s acknowledge how refreshing it is that so far the reports are that this is only being used for targeted individuals and not just randomly grabbing up all data. The iPhone is mentioned in this article, but from my reading of the article is seems as though iPhones are targeted through backups.
Not, as you might suspect, through iCloud backups, but backups on a user computers. This seems like a dubious assertion to me, because before iCloud backups even I wasn’t regularly backing up my iPhone. It would be my guess that iCloud backups are just as, if not more, vulnerable.
More telling is the hack into BlackBerry’s as it looks to be pretty far reaching — and may be the nail in the coffin for BlackBerry. It appears the NSA has a pretty good handle on the “secure” communication device, I can’t imagine it is a good day for Canada’s only company.1
No, actually, the most disturbing part of this report is this bit:
In three consecutive transparencies, the authors of the presentation draw a comparison with “1984,” George Orwell’s classic novel about a surveillance state, revealing the agency’s current view of smartphones and their users. “Who knew in 1984 that this would be Big Brother …” the authors ask, in reference to a photo of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. And commenting on photos of enthusiastic Apple customers and iPhone users, the NSA writes: “… and the zombies would be paying customers?”
The touting of creating a 1984 like state is very unsettling and is very telling. This is how these agencies view themselves: as the watchers. They were created to keep us safe, but see themselves as helicopter parents.
On a lighter note, the idea that these agencies can hack iPhones, but still use transparencies is, well, both confusing and ridiculous.
Joking, or am I? ↩