Whistleblower Edward Snowden, in an interview with the BBC’s ‘Panorama,’ spoke in detail about a stunning array of cyber spying tools used by the U.K.’s GCHQ to hack smartphones with a single text message. The spyware package is named after the little blue cartoon characters; the Smurfs.
“It’s called an ‘exploit’,” Snowden said. “That’s a specially crafted message that’s texted to your number like any other text message but when it arrives at your phone it’s hidden from you. It doesn’t display. You paid for [the phone] but whoever controls the software owns the phone,” he added.
Smartphone users can do “very little” to stop security services getting “total control” over their devices, according to Snowden.
The “Smurf Suite” package arrives by text messages, without users ever being aware of the message or its payload, as the phone is not altered in any way, according to Snowden.
Dreamy Smurf: A power management tool, which allows the phone to be powered on and off without the user knowing.
Nosey Smurf: A ‘hotmic’ tool that allows the microphone on a phone to be turned on, even if the phone is powered off.
Tracker Smurf: A geo-location tool that tracks a person with much greater precision than the typical triangulation of cellphone towers.
Paranoid Smurf: Covers the tracks of the breach of phone security, as to not allow even a phone security expert to recognize that the device has been tampered with upon inspection.
Snowden said the spy agency could see “who you call, what you’ve texted, the things you’ve browsed, the list of your contacts, the places you’ve been, the wireless networks that your phone is associated with.”
“And they can do much more. They can photograph you,” he said.
According to a report in the Daily Dot:
The NSA, which Snowden said provided “tasking and direction” for GCHQ’s use of these tools, reportedly has comparable mobile surveillance capabilities, but it is unknown if the U.S. agency deploys it through a hidden text message like its British counterpart.
The NSA and its partners in the Five Eyes intelligence alliance exploited flaws in a popular mobile app to gain access to phones running that software and searched for ways to hack into popular app markets. GCHQ and the NSA also tried for years to break into Blackberry devices, with an analyst celebrating their eventual success in March 2010 by writing “Champagne!”
Snowden, who has been living in exile in Russia since June 2013, has been charged by the U.S. with espionage and theft of government property after leaking documents to the media about widespread digital surveillance.
During the interview Snowden said that he would like to eventually return to the U.S., and would be willing to serve prison time for his massive data breach, but that he would not be willing to do so if he was being charged under the Espionage Act.
The heroic acts of Edward Snowden stand as a testament as to what it means to be truly willing to sacrifice for an ideal.