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When you use smartphone apps such as Angry Birds you might be sharing your data and your location with the National Security Agency and its British counterpart, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). That’s the latest revelation from the NSA documents that Edward Snowden turned over to The Guardian and other news outlets.
Among other things, the NSA and other intelligence agencies are able to pinpoint your location through your smartphone. The agencies can also use “leaky” phone apps such as Angry Birds to scoop up large amounts of data about smartphone users.
The shift to smartphone browsing is making it easier than ever for intelligence agencies and cyber criminals to steal your data. Some of the details about a person’s life that the NSA and GCHQ can learn from smartphone data include:
- Zip Code
- Marital Status
- Education level
- Number of children
Smartphone apps allow intelligence and law enforcement agencies to pinpoint targets in real time. That means they can find out where you are the minute you use an App and track you.
“[I]t effectively means that anyone using Google Maps on a smartphone is working in support of a GCHQ system,” one of the documents uncovered by The Guardian indicates.
Data Mining the Games
The GCHQ is effectively mining the platforms that games and other apps are distributed through, Guardian writer James Ball wrote. Ball also noted that some app platforms, including Millennial Media, a third party advertising network that distributes such popular games as Angry Birds, Farmville and Call of Duty, gather a great deal of data about users.
The GCHQ and presumably the NSA are collecting cookie data from the advertising applications in a wide variety of apps, Ball concluded. He didn’t say what the agencies are doing with this data.
GCHQ’s ‘Smurfs’ Can Turn Your Smartphone Against You
The GCHQ also has the capability to use your own smartphone to spy upon you. The agency has developed a specialized tool codenamed “Smurfs” which can take over your phone. The agency has nicknamed each tool after a particular Smurf.
- Nosey Smurf turns on your phone’s microphone so agents can listen to your conversations.
- Tracker Smurf can pinpoint your location.
- Dreamy Smurf can actually turn your phone on if you’ve turned it off.
- Paranoid Smurf hides spyware in your smartphone. It also turns off your firewall and other security programs.
- Kernel Smurf can apparently take the files on your Smartphone and send them back to GCHQ.
There are Smurfs for both Android and iPhone Apps. The Smurfs have apparently been targeting smartphones since 2010. It is also safe to assume that there is a Smurf that can turn your smartphone camera on so the GCHQ can take pictures of whatever you’re doing.
Ball noted that all of these capabilities are illegal in both the United States and Great Britain. He didn’t say whether the NSA has access to the Smurfs or not although it is safe to assume that it does.