So how do cops and spooks steal data from your mobile phone, anyway? Research teams at the Kaspersky Lab in Russia and Toronto’s Citizen Lab independently analyzed a digital surveillance tool created by the Italian Company, Hacking Team (do watch this marketing video if you want something to think about), which more than 60 government worldwide use to snatch and record mobile phone data. The tool’s components have been designed to target Android, iOS, Windows Mobile, and BlackBerry users—one of whom is probably you.
According to a lengthy Wired article by Kim Zetter, here’s what the Hacking Team’s tool can do: collect your emails, text messages, call history, and address books; log keystrokes, reveal where you’ve searched, and take screenshots; record audio of calls and the ambient sounds in the room where the phone is; and use the phone’s camera to take pictures of the surroundings. No surprise, the tool can use the phone’s GPS system to locate it (and probably, you, too). In other words, the tool can do with the phone pretty much everything you can.
What’s new about these revelations is that this is the first time these techniques have been reverse-engineered to reveal how they really work, including how they protect themselves from detection. Here’s a blog post about these discoveries from Russian researcher Sergey Golovanov.
Spies following each other through the wetly reflecting nighttime alleys of Eastern Europe will be relegated to film noir, since the above functions let a tracker follow you to that screening of 1984 and home again from some remote center. Most countries using this technology have one or two command-and-control centers to monitor multiple targets and conduct surveillance. The nation with by far the most such centers? The United States, with 64.
The genie is out of the bottle, however, and “This type of exceptionally invasive toolkit, once a costly boutique capability deployed by intelligence communities and militaries, is now being marketed for targeting everyday criminality and ‘security threats,’” say Citizen Lab researchers. Inevitably, people who shouldn’t have it, will.