In June, the revelation that the NSA had been tapping into the servers of some of the largest internet companies, demonstrated to the world how public our private lives have become due to frequent internet use. As much as we would like to believe that our passwords keep us safe from the prying eyes of government officials and snooping hackers, it is becoming more evident by the day that this is not the case.
The FBI’s top priority for this year is to increase its online surveillance capabilities, and even Google has been caught scanning the content of emails and Gmail messages. Many analysts believe that real-time surveillance of citizens’ online activities will soon become the norm. Until now, however, it was a common belief that the iPhone is somehow impervious to this type of surveillance due to its walled garden approach. Unfortunately, recent evidence demonstrates that your iPhone can indeed be used to spy on you. Here are three ways it can be done:
While most smartphones allow the installation of applications that are not affiliated with the company that created the phone, the iPhone does not. Instead of viewing this as a gimmicky money making scheme invented by Apple, this has led many iPhone aficionados to believe that it is impossible to use unsigned spyware in an iPhone. In reality, however, all you need to do to install non-App store software in an iPhone is to put the device through what is known as a jailbreak. While this may sound complicated, it can take just a few minutes to complete if the ‘jailbreaker’ has the right set of skills and a little bit of time to prepare. A jailbreak involves loading custom firmware onto the device in order to allow users to run unsigned software on it. Once this has been done, installing spyware is an easy next step. Most of this spyware is very difficult to track and the majority of people whose phones have been installed with it will never know. There are many different types of spyware with different capabilities available for iPhones, but most of them are able to track the location of the device via GPS, record all incoming and outgoing phone calls and text messages, and even record the phone’s browsing history.
While basic spyware like the kind mentioned above can be purchased by anyone, the tech industry has begun selling special software to governments that can do everything from follow your movements to recognize your voice. One example of this type of software is the FinFisher program, which is produced by the British company Gamma International and delivered via a phony iTunes update. Software developers claim that this technology is meant for high-level law enforcement officials to track the activities of known criminals, however, many experts have expressed concern that this type of software is being used to encroach on civil liberties and record the Internet use of politically engaged citizens. Political activists in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya were already targeted during the Arab spring uprisings, and in March, Reporters without Borders named Gamma International one of the top five "Corporate Enemies of the Internet" for selling products used by governments to violate freedom of information and human rights. FinFisher is specifically known for being able to take over an iPhone, and it is available in the United States.
The new iPhone 5 has been heralded as the best new high tech phone out there, but the built-in battery system may leave these devices more vulnerable to spying than desirable. If your battery is still in your phone, the FBI has the capability to activate the microphone on the device and record everything that is happening in the room, even when your phone has been switched off. This method, known as a roving bug, has been used to monitoring members of the mafia. However, it can easily be used to record the conversations of ordinary citizens. When we take into consideration the NSA’s pledge to improve its database of phone calls, and the fact that it’s legal in 38 states to record a phone conversation without your knowledge, the roving bug is something more iPhone users should be aware of. So while the iPhone may be less vulnerable to spying than other types of mobile devices such as Nextel and Samsung, there is no guarantee that opting for Apple will protect you from the multifarious ways it is now possible to spy on people through their electronic devices.