Snowden Accuses Intelligence Agencies Of Hacking Smartphones With One Text Message

By R. Siva Kumar - 09 Oct '15 08:56AM

Just one text message from a US or UK intelligence agency can make them get control over your smartphone, said NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Snowden said to BBC  in an interview that the NSA has equipped British security agency GCHQ with a sophisticated tool labelled "Smurf Suite," which enables the agency to get control over a smartphone by sending an encrypted text message.

While the program itself is priced at $1 billion, the use can do little to stop the agency from hijacking it, he said. "[They send] a specially crafted message that's texted to your number like any other text message, but when it arrives at your phone, it's hidden from you. It doesn't display. You paid for it, but whoever controls the software owns the phone. They want to own your phone instead of you," Snowden told BBC's investigative show Panorama.

Snowden has been living in exile in Russia since 2013, when he provided journalists with classified information about the NSA's controversial surveillance programs. He recently said that he has "volunteered to go to prison with the government many times," but he has not received a response.

Snowden explained that the GCHQ tool is "a subsidiary of the NSA."

"They [the NSA] provide technology, they provide tasking and direction as to what they [GCHQ] should go after," he said.

Hence, just about any section of the phone can be tracked by the agencies, which would allow them to "read text messages, call logs, browse web history, contact lists, geo-locations, wireless networks, and even take covert photos", even as the owner of the phone would never become aware of it, according to HNGN.

Various tools in the system were pointed out: "Dreamy Smurf is the power management tool which means turning your phone on and off with you knowing. Nosey Smurf is the 'hot mic' tool. For example if it's in your pocket, [GCHQ] can turn the microphone on and listen to everything that's going on around you - even if your phone is switched off because they've got the other tools for turning it on. Tracker Smurf is a geo-location tool which allows [GCHQ] to follow you with a greater precision than you would get from the typical triangulation of cellphone towers."

Finally, Paranoid Smurf is "a self-protection tool that's used hide the manipulation of your phone. For example," Snowden said, "if you wanted to take the phone in to get it serviced because you saw something strange going on or you suspected something was wrong, it makes it much more difficult for any technician to realize that anything's gone amiss."

However, when queried about the charges, GCHQ declined to give answers, referring to a "long-standing policy that we do not comment on intelligence matters."

The added that "All of GCHQ's work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework, which ensures that our activities are authorized, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight, including from the secretary of state, the interception and intelligence services commissioners and the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee. All our operational processes rigorously support this position."

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