Wikileaks: The Government Is Spying On You Through Your iPhone | Cult of Mac

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.
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.


Daily round-ups or a weekly refresher, straight from Cult of Mac to your inbox.

  • The Weekender

    The week's best Apple news, reviews and how-tos from Cult of Mac, every Saturday morning. Our readers say: "Thank you guys for always posting cool stuff" -- Vaughn Nevins. "Very informative" -- Kenly Xavier.