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Why you should immediately smash your smart phone and buy a dumb one


Newly uncovered components of a digital surveillance tool used by more than 60 governments worldwide provide a rare glimpse at the extensive ways law enforcement and intelligence agencies use the tool to surreptitiously record and steal data from mobile phones.

The modules, made by the Italian company Hacking Team, were uncovered by researchers working independently of each other at Kaspersky Lab in Russia and the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs in Canada, who say the findings provide great insight into the trade craft behind Hacking Team’s tools.

The new components target Android, iOS, Windows Mobile, and BlackBerry users and are part of Hacking Team’s larger suite of tools used for targeting desktop computers and laptops. But the iOS and Android modules provide cops and spooks with a robust menu of features to give them complete dominion over targeted phones.

ZOMG!!!!! Even BlackBerry!MR SUBLIMINAL Even Windows Mobile

Secretly activating the microphone and taking regular camera shots provides constant surveillance of the target—which is much more powerful than traditional cloak and dagger operations,” notes Kaspersky researcher Sergey Golovanov in a blog post about the findings.

So, which governments?

Kaspersky has tracked more than 350 command-and-control servers created for [Hacking Team] in more than 40 countries. While Kaspersky found only one or two servers in most of these countries, the researchers found 64 in the United States—by far the most. Kazakhstan followed with 49, Ecuador with 35 and the United Kingdom with 32. It’s not known for certain whether law enforcement agencies in the U.S. use Hacking Team’s tool or if these servers are used by other governments. But as Kaspersky notes, it makes little sense for governments to maintain their command servers in foreign countries where they run the risk of losing control over the servers.

Ecuador? Guess I can cross them off the emigration list....

“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,’” [Citizen Lab writes]. “An unstated assumption is that the entities able to buy these tools will use them correctly, and primarily for law enforcement purposes. As our research has shown, however, by dramatically lowering the entry cost on invasive and hard-to-­trace monitoring, it lowers the cost of targeting political threats” too.

Like I said. Get a dumb phone. No contract. SMS.

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V. Arnold's picture
Submitted by V. Arnold on simply putting one's phone in a Faraday Cage. As simple as wrapping one's phone in aluminum foil. Make sure there are no gaps...

Submitted by lambert on

I'd be leery of tinfoil because I can imagine the foil tearing.

There are commercial Faraday bags (though this one has trouble sealing). Of course, one can imagine the powers that be making sure there was a pinhole in the bag at source, in the same way that they can intercept shipment of computers to insert malware or even chips....

V. Arnold's picture
Submitted by V. Arnold on

...I know because I've tried and tested it. Heavy duty, double layer, and folded seals all round. I can buy a hell of a lot of aluminum foil for $40 bucks (and shitty construction). Here, when I travel, my phone and passport (RFID chip), are so encased. My Thai drivers license also has an RFID chip embedded within. I don't own a credit card and never will; so, there's another tracking device. Cash rules, always.
If you use a credit card then everything else is null and void; remember, security is full spectrum dominance, by the target... ;)

Submitted by lambert on

... not to store up data when the foil was on, then transmit it in a burst when the foil was off. If you want to use the phone, you've got to let a signal through some time!

quixote's picture
Submitted by quixote on

It was the last mass market open source (software, not hardware) phone. The USB connection is trying to crap out and the battery is getting arthritic and I'm still waiting for the next iteration of free phone. Looks like it may be a while.

(Yes, I know about Jolla. Out of my price range. And Tizen is like the Second Coming. Always soon, never now. The Firefox phone is too much of a step down from my beloved N900. So I wait.)