The National Security Agency has the ability to hack into and access user data on smartphones running software from Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY), according to a report from German newspaper Der Spiegel.
The report, which said the newsweekly had seen top-secret NSA documents related to the program, said that the spy agency has the ability to "tap" sensitive data held on the smartphones, including contact lists, SMS traffic, notes and user location information. The report did not say how the publication accessed the documents it cites; many leaks about the NSA in recent months have come from documents provided by Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor.
The report also said the NSA has set up specific "working groups" for each operating system. The documents cited in the report said that the NSA was able to hack into the computers a person uses to sync their iPhone, and then gain access to at least 38 iPhone features.
Additionally, the report said the NSA was also able to access BlackBerry's secure email system; BlackBerry has long maintained that its services protect users' security, and that messages sent on its BlackBerry devices are encrypted and can only be seen by corporate client servers. The report said that after losing the ability to hack BlackBerry devices in 2009 when the company changed how it compresses data, analysts at the United Kingdom spy agency GCHQ, the NSA's counterpart, were able to regain access to BlackBerry data and celebrated with the word, "champagne!"
According to the Atlantic, two American reporters for the Guardian, which has reported on numerous NSA leaks from Snowden, recently discovered a strange new app on their iPhones with "no title, no identifying image, and serves no function they can notice."
In response, a BlackBerry spokesperson told Mashable: "It is not for us to comment on media reports regarding alleged government surveillance of telecommunications traffic. However, we remain confident in the superiority of BlackBerry's mobile security platform for customers using our integrated device and enterprise server technology," the spokesperson said. "Our public statements and principles have long underscored that there is no 'back door' pipeline to our platform. Our customers can rest assured that BlackBerry mobile security remains the best available solution to protect their mobile communications."
"The security of our users' data is a top priority," a Google spokesperson told FierceWireless. "We have no knowledge of working groups like these and do not provide any government with access to our systems. We provide user data to governments only in accordance with the law."
An Apple spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The new report comes after reports last week from the New York Times, the Guardian and Pro Publica that said that, according to documents provided by Snowden, the NSA has gone around or hacked through much of the encryption systems available on the Internet that protect emails, online searches, Internet chats and phone calls of Americans and others around the world.
"For the past decade, N.S.A. has led an aggressive, multipronged effort to break widely used Internet encryption technologies," said a 2010 memo describing a briefing about NSA accomplishments for employees of GCHQ, according to the Times. "Cryptanalytic capabilities are now coming online. Vast amounts of encrypted Internet data which have up till now been discarded are now exploitable."
- see this Der Spiegel article
- see this Mashable article
- see this AP article
- see this CNET article
- see this The Verge article
Report: Federal and local drug agents access massive AT&T call database
Report: Government steps up oversight of carriers, vendors through merger-review process
Political issues, spying concerns could drag at Google's Project Loon
BlackBerry hacked? NSA, GCHQ reportedly break into BlackBerry calls, messages
Apple: We received up to 5,000 requests for user data from government in 6 months
Report: NSA doesn't directly get access to Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile call data
Reports: NSA gets phone records from Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, as well as data from Apple, Google and others