In an interview with the BBC from his home in exile in Moscow, Edward Snowden said that U.S. and UK intelligence agencies have developed several tools to hack smartphones. The Snowden interview was broadcast on the BBC’s “Panorama” on Monday night.
Snowden went on to note that for the most part intelligence agencies are not really looking to monitor private phone communications. They are actually taking over full control of the phone to take photos or record ongoing conversations within earshot.
“They want to own your phone instead of you,” Snowden commented.
NSA / GCHQ “Smurfs” can own your smartphone
According to Snowden, the UK’s spy agency the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) has used NSA technology to develop software tools to control almost anyone’s smartphone.
In the interview he notes that all it takes is sending an encrypted text message to get into virtually any smartphone. Moreover, the message will not be seen by the user, making it almost impossible to stop the attack.
In an appalling choiced of code names, apparently the GCHQ is calling these smartphone hacking tools the “Smurf Suite” after the famous Dutch blue-skinned cartoon characters.
“Dreamy Smurf is the power management tool which means turning your phone on and off with you knowing,” Snowden pointed out.
“Nosey Smurf is the ‘hot mic’ tool,” he explained. “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.”
Snowden also highlighted that one tool, Paranoid Smurf, is actually a defensive mechanism designed to make the other tools installed on the phone undetectable.
The tools Snowden described in the interview were GCHQ jargon, but Snowden said the UK intelligence agency was “to all intents and purposes a subsidiary of the NSA. They [the NSA] provide technology, they provide tasking and direction as to what they [GCHQ] should go after.”
He also noted that the NSA has spent close to $1 billion to develop a similar smartphone hacking program.