Wikileaks: The Government Is Spying On You Through Your iPhone

Wikileaks: The Government Is Spying On You Through Your iPhone

The FinFisher Trojan is government spyware that is installed via a phony iTunes update. Image by Gamma International UK Ltd.

Your iPhone could be spying on you, according to the latest trove of documents from Wikileaks, which looks like it could be the biggest scandal yet.

Called the Spyfiles, it’s a trove of documents about the “mass interception industry” — the massive post-9/11 surveillance community that electronically snoops on entire populations.

The industry is selling software to government agencies — some of it delivered by Trojans — that can take over your iPhone. It can track its every use, follow your movements (even in standby), recognize your voice, record conversations, and even capture video and audio from the room it is in.

It’s not just limited to iPhones, of course. There are various spyware packages that run on PCs, Android and Blackberry. The uses are mind-boggling. The CIA, for example, is using phone-tracking software to target drone strikes in the Middle East and Central Asia. It recognizes the subject by their voice print, but the actual targeting isn’t terribly accurate.

One of the most sophisticated spying packages — The FinFisher program, produced by the British company, Gamma International — is delivered via a phony iTunes update. The Wall Street Journal has more details on the FinFisher spyware, which is sold to police and government agencies. (Der Speigel has a fascinating article about how it is marketed).

Apple just patched the vulnerability in iTunes update 10.5.1. (The vulnerability appears to be Windows only, but it’s not clear. It’s claimed Apple knew about the problem for three years).

FinFisher says the spyware is legal and the company doesn’t know of abuses. But there’s evidence spyware was used to monitor political activists in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya during the Arab Spring, according to a big story about the latest Wikileaks leak in The Washington Post:

“We are seeing a growing number of repressive regimes get hold of the latest, greatest Western technologies and use them to spy on their own citizens for the purpose of quashing peaceful political dissent or even information that would allow citizens to know what is happening in their communities,” Michael Posner, assistant secretary of state for human rights, said in a speech last month in California. “We are monitoring this issue very closely.”

The Post mostly covers the sale of this technology by U.S. companies to repressive regimes, which are using it to spy on citizens and squish political dissent. But Wikileaks claims mass surveillance systems could be widely deployed in western countries:

Surveillance companies like SS8 in the U.S., Hacking Team in Italy and Vupen in France manufacture viruses (Trojans) that hijack individual computers and phones (including iPhones, Blackberries and Androids), take over the device, record its every use, movement, and even the sights and sounds of the room it is in. Other companies like Phoenexia in the Czech Republic collaborate with the military to create speech analysis tools. They identify individuals by gender, age and stress levels and track them based on ‘voiceprints’. Blue Coat in the U.S. and Ipoque in Germany sell tools to governments in countries like China and Iran to prevent dissidents from organizing online.

And you thought Carrier IQ was bad?

Wikileaks has promised to release hundreds of documents about 160 intelligence contractors in the mass surveillance industry through the rest of this month and next year. It released 278 documents on Thursday. Wikileaks is working with several privacy and media organizations.

  • Fring

    Is there any information about ‘where’ these Trojans are disseminated from? I can see how easily it might happen with the open Android market but for iPhones?

  • gareth edwards

    I don’t think that people will be that surprised by the extent to which the civil and military surveillance organisations have developed. As every generation (and technology) have grown up there have always been systems (both technological and social) for eavesdropping on enemies of the state (be they at home or abroad).

    The scary aspect of this (in my opinion) is the sheer amount of data they can now collect, rather than the fact that they can.

  • JoViKe

    Terrible. Like something out of Dick, Sladek or Brunner.

  • Sugarless_GiRL_10

    That’s exactly what I was wondering. Unless there’s a vulnerability in the iOS, which there always have been. But how exactly would it be exploited?

  • prof_peabody

    This is a really confusing article.  I can’t tell from how it’s written if this is a big problem, an ongoing problem or not a real problem at all.  It implies that this is an “old business” and the software is already for sale or in use, then at other times it implies like this is all hypothetical and the programs haven’t been used at all but might be in the future.  Which is it?  

    Also, right in the middle there is a quote about how this software is “legal” and “no abuses are known.”  WTF does that mean?  

    As described, this software clearly violates the law in Europe, Canada, and the USA for starters.  *Anyone* using this, government or otherwise is indeed breaking the law big time.  None of this is “legal” in any way.   

    So confusing.  All you’ve done here is scare everyone without actually providing any hard information or facts at all.  

  • Ryan Creighton

    “Squish” political dissent is a hilarious choice of words. Do you mean “quash” (as is written in the preceding paragraph quotation)?  Could you picture Dan Rather describing an oppressive regime as “squishing” political dissent?

    “Today, Saudi Arabia gave a purple nurple to women’s rights … “

  • Adem

    all of this shit is happening and yet they want us to use cloud computing?

  • Adem

    they don’t even need to install anything on your phone, they can jam your phone and hijack everything you do with it remotely. just go through some of the files on wikileaks and read about the technology they use to monitor your phone calls and make calls using your phone, send sms etc 
    you can start with this one http://wikileaks.org/spyfiles/

  • Adem

    if you are interested in the companies that collect data check out this website http://www.spyfiles.org 

  • Xeph Grand

    You see that webcam on top of your screen? Even though you think its only active when the green LED switches on, its probably hacked to spy on us when THEY want to. If your paranoid, tape it over. Personally, Ive nothing to hide and enjoy the feds watching me pick my nose or jerk off ;)
    Corncerning mobile phones….since a couple of years, you have to give your address and a copy of your ID or passport to buy a Prepaid mobile phone. Why do you reckon that is? So every phone has a physical owner who THEY can track at the click of a mouse. 
    And that cute stray cat you found at your front door? Its a trained assassin from the US, awaiting its orders to claw your eyes out and eat your remains if you dare believe anything Wikileaks publishes!
    Now go back to your TV, eat carbs to dull your senses, and disconnect from reality. THEY like it that way ;)

  • CharliK

    1. Not a big issue for the whole iTunes thing because Apple fixed the glitches that allowed it as they turned up over the past 3 years. 

    2. the software is legal for use by law enforcement etc with a proper warrant and private companies on their company property and they are saying that they have no record if anyone using it outside of those terms. 

  • CharliK

    1. Not a big issue for the whole iTunes thing because Apple fixed the glitches that allowed it as they turned up over the past 3 years. 

    2. the software is legal for use by law enforcement etc with a proper warrant and private companies on their company property and they are saying that they have no record if anyone using it outside of those terms. 

  • AvoidDroid

    Now THIS along with all the black helicopters that keep circling my house…..

  • Honyant

    When you see Carrier IQ think Air America.

  • Njideka Okafor

    LMAO! you’re on to sumfh mhan? There’s little we can do about these thing coz we don’t make our own software our selves. You could throw out all your electronic stuffs and go stone age. There, that would be some privacy.

  • JohnnyCa34

    This is going to be a long debate if we would allow or disagree for that government to track our every move. At some point it could help track terrorist and catch them before another 9-11 bombing could happened.

    The only problem with that is we don’t know if really the government will use the data to crack down this bad guys. There could be a chance that they misused the information and take advantage of people’s privacy or even much more than that.

    http://spybubbledownloadfree.blogspot.com/2014/01/pro-should-be-your-choice.html

About the author

Leander KahneyLeander Kahney is the editor and publisher of Cult of Mac. He is the NYT bestselling author of Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple's Greatest Products; Inside Steve’s Brain; Cult of Mac; and Cult of iPod. Leander has written for Wired, MacWeek, Scientific American, and The Guardian in London. Follow Leander on Twitter @lkahney and Facebook.

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