NSA Spyware Allegedly Gives Backdoor Access to iPhones

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The U.S. National Security Agency has spyware designed to grant backdoor access to the iPhone specifically, according to leaked documents shared by high-profile security researcher Jacob Appelbaum and German publication Der Spiegel.

While speaking at the Chaos Communication Congress in Germany, Appelbaum shared his knowledge of “DROPOUTJEEP,” a top-secret NSA program that can intercept an iPhone’s SMS messages, contacts, location, camera, and microphone.

Appelbaum, who has close ties to Wikileaks and NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, prefaced his presentation at the conference by saying that his findings are “wrist-slitting depressing.” A 50-page catalog from the NSA reveals the organization’s backdoor tools for a host of companies, including well-known names like Cisco and Dell.

The iPhone’s backdoor is explained in a leaked NSA document:

“DROPOUT JEEP is a software implant for the Apple iPhone that utilizes 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.”

S3222_DROPOUTJEEP

What is perhaps more alarming than the hack itself is the NSA’s claim that it will always succeed with installing the spyware on any iPhone. Physical access is needed now to install the spyware, but a version that can be remotely installed is in the works. It has been reported that the NSA has covertly intercepted hardware shipments before they arrive to their destinations in order to implant spyware.

“Do you think Apple helped them build that?”

“Do you think Apple helped them build that?” asked Appelbaum during his talk. “I don’t know. I hope Apple will clarify that… Here’s a problem: I don’t really believe that Apple didn’t help them. I can’t really prove it, 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 shitty software.”

To be clear, this news doesn’t mean that Apple has indeed worked with the NSA on a backdoor for the iPhone like Appelbaum implies. But the NSA is confident it has a foolproof backdoor that gives a scary amount of access to someone’s iPhone.

After The Washington Post exposed the NSA’s PRISM program, Apple joined a group of other tech companies seeking for the NSA to be more transparent about its surveillance tactics. Tim Cook recently a joined a number of other executives to discuss the issue with President Obama.

You can watch Appelbaum’s full talk below, but the iPhone-related stuff doesn’t come up until about 44 minutes in:

We’ve reached out to Apple for comment on its knowledge of DROPOUTJEEP and will update this article if we get a reply.

Update: Apple has denied any knowledge of DROPOUTJEEP and the NSA’s efforts to create a backdoor into its products.

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  • barleymcgrew

    Tin Foil hat anyone….! I’m make them if you’re all buying them, it seems like the staff at “Der Spiegel” have been starting new year early and tried some medicinal drugs to get them well on the way. LOL

  • ArtiH

    What a crock of Sh*t “***NSA has covertly intercepted hardware shipments before they arrive to their destinations in order to implant spyware.” this guy is fishing, if there was such a thing it would not be implemented thru individual device, and why break into each device when breaking into the specific provider gives you access to all devices iOS, Android or others. To much resources wasted on something that can be wiped out with a firmware update. Of course unless its a tiny chip, but then it can’t be implemented remotely. And stop suggesting that Apple had something to do with it, total nonsense.

  • Taojones_1

    i lived through the cold war i at the age of 8 put my head under my desk and waited for castro to nuke us . i saw billions wasted in arms we did not dare use while people went hungry and homeless . The whole time the mantra was “if the commies get you you will live in a state where the government listens to everything you do ,photographs you walking on the street or driving in your car ,reads your mail, takes people who are “enemies ” and toutures them with out recourse to trial . I was told to thank my lucky stars that i lived in a country that ends wars not starts them. Everything they told me to fear more than death is happening around me and sending letters to my government representatives just gets me on the soak list for donations to fight against some group or the other that doesn’t even bother me in my life. WHAT COUNTRY IS THIS I LIVE IN ?

    “ It is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, a parliament or
    a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”

    Hermann Goering, Nuremberg Trials

  • Robert X

    This is beyond far fetched more so that he can’t really say if Apple is helping them? Give me a break.

  • daov2a

    Not surprising at all. This seems extremely likely. I’m sure there is something similar on every OS. And this is no doubt why Obama is barred from using an iPhone.

    If this were MS instead of Apple, no one would say he is lying or fishing.

  • Punkxinxdrublic

    Conspiracies! I wish I knew for sure! All of them!

About the author

Alex HeathAlex Heath has been a staff writer at Cult of Mac for three years. He is also a co-host of the CultCast. He has been quoted by the likes of the BBC, KRON 4 News, and books like "ICONIC: A Photographic Tribute to Apple Innovation." If you want to pitch a story, share a tip, or just get in touch, additional contact information is available on his personal site. Twitter always works too.

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