Chances are that you have read some of the same scary headlines that I’ve seen in the last 24 hours or so.
The claims that the NSA has a backdoor into the iPhone, giving it the opportunity to spy upon virtually all activity on the device, came amid a much wider talk given yesterday by computer security researcher Jacob Appelbaum (aka @ioerror) at 30C3, the 30th Chaos Communication Congress held in Hamburg, Germany.
Although the alleged Apple iPhone backdoor has made most of the headlines, Appelbaum’s talk (a video of which is embedded below) describes a much broader range of tools that the NSA apparently deploys against other technology companies and products, including HP servers, Cisco firewalls, Huawei routers, and so on.
Appelbaum presented his research in parallel with Der Spiegel publishing its own detailed report into the issue.
DROPOUTJEEP is a software implant for the Apple iPhone that utilises modular mission applications to provide specific SIGINT functionality. This functionality includes the ability to remotely push/pull files from the device, SMS retrieval, contact list retrieval, voicemail, geolocation, hot mic, camera capture, cell tower location, etc. Command, control and data exfiltration can occur over SMS messaging or a GPRS data connection. All communications with the implant will be covert and encrypted.
But, despite some of the breathless headlines used by some sections of the media, the material presented does not mean that the NSA has “complete control of your iPhone”.
Just take a look at the bottom of the leaked document, which dates from 2008:
The initial release of DROPOUTJEEP will focus on installing the implant via close access methods. A remote installation capability will be pursued for a future release.
In other words, the NSA’s TAO (Tailored Access Operations) hacking unit requires physical access to your iPhone in order to plant spyware on it
Now, it may be that they have since found unpatched vulnerabilities in iOS to install the spyware onto targeted devices remotely (and – one presumes – not told Apple about those security holes), but that’s not what the leaked documents say.
Decide for yourself, and get an eye-opening view on how America’s spies appear to be hoarding zero day exploits in products from US companies, and using them against people worldwide, by watching the video of Appelbaum’s talk. (The short section detailing NSA technology to spy on iOS devices can be found at approximately 44min:30sec)
It sounds as though everything that America has accused the Chinese of attempting in the way of cyber espionage, the US government has also been doing against American users and companies.
The last words on the iPhone backdoor implanting go to Appelbaum, from his talk at 30C3:
I don’t really believe that Apple didn’t help them. I can’t really prove it yet, but they [the NSA] literally claim that anytime they target an iOS device, that it will succeed for implantation. Either they have a huge collection of exploits that work against Apple products, meaning that they are hoarding information about critical systems that American companies produce and sabotaging them, or Apple sabotaged it themselves.
Not sure which one it is. I’d like to believe that since Apple didn’t join the PRISM program until after Steve Jobs died, that maybe it’s just that they write sh**ty software. We know that’s true.
I must admit I tend to believe more in the cock-up theory of history, rather than conspiracy. If that’s the case, let’s hope that Apple has improved its software’s security since 2008.
And if it’s not true, we’ve all got a huge problem.
Found this article interesting? Follow Graham Cluley on Twitter to read more of the exclusive content we post.