Former National Security Agency chief Michael Hayden told a rather alarming story about the iPhone at a recent conference in Washington, according to Der Spiegel:
He and his wife were in an Apple store in Virginia, Hayden, the former head of the United States National Security Agency (NSA), said at a conference in Washington recently. A salesman approached and raved about the iPhone, saying that there were already “400,000 apps” for the device. Hayden, amused, turned to his wife and quietly asked: “This kid doesn’t know who I am, does he? Four-hundred-thousand apps means 400,000 possibilities for attacks.”
By “attacks,” Hayden meant covert data-gathering by the NSA. In other words, the spy chief immediately recognised the expansion of iPhone apps as an opportunity to gain more information about millions of users around the world.
And he wasn’t joking. Der Spiegel’s report shows that the NSA has been accessing a ton of smartphone, according to a purported secret presentation leaked by Edward Snowden.
The agency reportedly has special task forces focusing on smartphone operating systems — specifically Apple’s iOS, Android, and BlackBerry — as well as departments responsible for customised surveillance operations against high-interest targets.
Der Spiegel notes that, unlike the PRISM program and other leaks, the cracking of smartphone security was entirely without the help of private providers.
Recent reporting shows the NSA has a history of coercing providers, either legally through the courts or through monetary compensation. This coercion also extends to smaller software or app providers.
On the other hand, what Hayden didn’t note that each new app is also an opportunity to hide from the NSA. Apps like What’s App and Skype used to give the NSA trouble, but they’ve since folded into the Agency’s deck. On the flip side, Silent Circle’s messaging service is still outside the NSA’s loop, and so is encrypted search engine DuckDuckGo, as far as we know. The fact is, as quickly as services like Lavabit close, new ones open.
The purported NSA presentation also shows screengrabs from Apple’s iconic 1984 commercial followed by pictures of Steve Jobs, saying “Who knew in 1984 … that [Steve Jobs] would be Big Brother … and the zombies would be paying customers?“
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