Short Bytes: Ex-NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden is busy working on a field-ready hardware introspection solution built inside a battery case for the iPhone 6. A research paper published by Snowden and the fellow author Andrew Huang throws light on the technical details of the development.
Snowden has taken the war to the next step. This time, he is going to become a hardware manufacturer to save the iPhone users from the surveillance activities conducted by NSA or any other security agency. He is the co-author, along with Andrew ‘bunnie’ Huang, of a research paper which aims to create a custom case for the iPhone. This case would be equipped with powers to alert users to the condition of a security agency trying to trespass in their devices.
The main working idea of the research paper is to introspect the radio signals of a mobile device to trace any activity of unwanted data being sent by the device. And it’s not an iPhone-exclusive research, it may apply to various smartphones available in the market. But the hacker duo has picked up the iPhones 6 probably due to its immense popularity. We have heard about the security level already offered by the iOS which forced FBI to knock the court’s door in the San Bernardino Shooter case. The tech world stood behind Apple to resist the unlocking of the shooters iPhone but FBI finally managed to crack the iPhone by themselves.
The research paper quotes the tragic death of the reporter Marie Colvin during the artillery fire by the Syrian forces in 2012. A lawsuit filed against the Syrian government claims that the reporter was a deliberate target and “describes how her location was discovered in part through the use of intercept devices that monitored satellite-dish and cellphone communications”.
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The GUI of the modern age smartphones can’t be trusted. It’s possible that your Bluetooth and WiFi radio might be working on the hardware level even after you have tapped the switch off. For example, smartphones have a feature to search for networks even if the Wi-Fi is turned off. It is a feature for added convenience, but if compromised, may lead to transmission of your valuable data without any consent of yours.
Why the iPhone
The research paper throws light on the unavailability of open source devices in the market, thus, it requires many resources to reverse engineer the devices to make it compatible with the introspection engine and its hardware they want to create. Hence, the 4.7” iPhone 6 is their prime choice for the deployment of their field-ready hardware introspection solution. “The choice of model is driven primarily by what we understand to be the current preferences and tastes of reporters. It has little to do with the relative security of any platform, as we assume any platform, be it iOS or Android, can and will be compromised by state-level adversaries.”
Their battery cum introspection case for iPhone 6, once in existence, will be able to introspect GPS, NFC, Bluetooth, WiFi, and Cellular Modem (2G,3G,4G) signals. It will make sure that your device is in the “dark” i.e. no unwanted signals is being transmitted.
They will be coming up with a prototype of the battery case by the next year. The development process will be solely based on the availability of funds and volunteer efforts. “If the prototype proves successful, the FPF may move to seek the necessary funding to develop and maintain a supply chain,” says the research paper. FPF stands for the Freedom of the Press Foundation, it’s a non-profit org. “dedicated to helping support and defend public-interest journalism focused on exposing mismanagement, corruption, and law-breaking in government”. Edward Snowden is a board member of the crowd-funded organization.
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