Wednesday November 20, 2019
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Mass Surveillance Tech Just Needs a Missed Call to Hack You

In 2018, a close confidant of Jamal Khashoggi was targeted in Canada with a fake package notification, resulting in the infection of his iPhone. Citizen Lab has tracked more than two dozen cases using similar techniques

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personal information, smart devices
While 85 per cent of people own a smartphone, 54 per cent believe the technology is spying on them. Pixabay

As Indians break their heads over WhatsApp spygate where an Israeli bug infected select users smartphones to access their personal details, the mass surveillance technology has truly come of age and now the governments just need to make a missed call to install an “exploit link” into the device of a person they want to bug, hack and listen in.

From the days when surveillance methods involved bugging the phone or cable wires to tap phones (remember Radia tapes!) to track a person’s vehicle by installing a tracking device beneath the car, cyber criminals and hackers have devised modern and untraceable tools to hack into your systems.

The most popular mass surveillance programme is ‘PRISM’ — under which the US National Security Agency (NSA) collects user’s personal communications from various US internet companies.

‘PRISM’ allegedly collects stored Internet communications based on demands made to internet companies.

The NSA can use PRISM requests to target communications that were encrypted when they traveled across the internet backbone, to focus on stored data that telecommunication filtering systems discarded earlier, and to get access to data.

Its existence was leaked by NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden, who warned that the extent of mass data collection was far greater than the public knew.

US President Barack Obama, during a visit to Germany, stated that the NSA’s data gathering practices constitute “a circumscribed, narrow system directed at us being able to protect our people”.

According to Amnesty.org, NSA and UK’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) are monitoring you with code names.

‘Muscular’ is one such project that “intercepts user data as it passes between Google servers”. Yahoo! was also said to be affected.

Between December 2012 and January 2013, ‘Muscular’ collected 181 million records but “Google has now strengthened security between their servers since then.

Cyber attack
Hackers and cyber criminals have IT managers on their target as per the survey. Pixabay

Another tool called ‘Optic Nerve’ allowed secret access to Yahoo! webcam chats. In a six-month period, it spied on 1.8 million Yahoo! users and took one still image every five minutes of video per user.

“GCHQ targeted Belgacom, Belgium’s largest telecommunications provider with spyware called Regin, a malicious piece of software designed to break into Belgaom’s networks. The purpose of the GCHQ hack was to spy on phones and internet users using the Belgacom network”.

Since then, the technology has evolved to such an extent that just a missed call is enough to snoop on anyone, anywhere.

Citizen Lab, a laboratory based at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy of the University of Toronto, has identified over 100 cases of abusive targeting of human rights’ defenders and journalists in at least 20 countries across the globe via the new piece of Israeli spyware called Pegasus.

Once Pegasus is installed, it begins contacting the operator’s command and control (C&C) servers to receive and execute operators’ commands, and send back the target’s private data, including passwords, contact lists, calendar events, text messages, and live voice calls from popular mobile messaging apps.

Also Read: Samsung Users Most Satisfied with the Brand: CMR

“The operator can even turn on the phone’s camera and microphone to capture activity in the phone’s vicinity, and use the GPS function to track a target’s location and movements,” said Citizen Lab.

The spyware can be placed on phones using multiple vectors, or means of infection. The WhatsApp exploit from May 2019 was one such vector.

In 2017, the wife of a murdered Mexican journalist was sent alarming text messages concerning her husband’s murder, designed to trick her into clicking on a link and infecting her phone with the Pegasus spyware.

In 2018, a close confidant of Jamal Khashoggi was targeted in Canada with a fake package notification, resulting in the infection of his iPhone. Citizen Lab has tracked more than two dozen cases using similar techniques. (IANS)

Next Story

Facebook Bug Shows iPhone Camera Open in Background: Report

Rosen said Facebook was submitting a fix for this to the Apple App Store

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facebook, WhatsApp, stories, feature
An iPhone displays the app for Facebook in New Orleans, Aug. 11, 2019. VOA

In yet another Facebook bug, several iPhone users were left shocked as the moment they opened the social networking app, the phone’s camera got automatically turned on in the background.

Multiple users on Tuesday posted that while going through their Facebook feed, they observed the camera running in the background.

Facebook Vice President of Integrity Guy Rosen first tweeted that it “sounds like a bug” and the social networking platform was investigating.

“Thanks for flagging this. This sounds like a bug, we are looking into it,” tweeted Rosen in reply to a user.

Later, Rosen admitted there was indeed a bug. The bug appears to only affect iPhone users running the latest iOS 13 software.

Fake, News, WhatsApp, Facebook, India
The Facebook mobile app on an Android smartphone. Wikimedia Commons

“We recently discovered our iOS app incorrectly launched in landscape. In fixing that last week in v246 (version246), we inadvertently introduced a bug where the app partially navigates to the camera screen when a photo is tapped. We have no evidence of photos/videos uploaded due to this,” he tweeted.

A Twitter user Joshua Maddux had flagged the issue: “Found a @facebook #security & #privacy issue. When the app is open it actively uses the camera. I found a bug in the app that lets you see the camera open behind your feed. Note that I had the camera pointed at the carpet”.

Also Read: Amazon Introduces ‘Project Zero’ in India to Block Counterfeits

Another posted: “Facebook app on iOS 13.2.2 opens my phone’s rear camera when I open a profile photo swipe down to return (look at the little slit on the left of the video). Is this an app bug or an iOS bug?”

Rosen said Facebook was submitting a fix for this to the Apple App Store. (IANS)