NSA whistleblower and American fugitive Edward Snowden has revealed information on the scope and capabilities of the United Kingdom’s GCHQ intelligence agency. He has found that this British version of the NSA, “a subsidiary of the NSA,” according to Snowden, can hack into and control British citizen’s phones without a warrant, or without the owner even noticing.
Government’s turning smartphones into smart tracking devices
Americans may have heard of the “Stingray” program that police and government agencies have used in major American cities since 2012. With Stingray, illegal and unconstitutional access of phone conversations and locations is collected using “Stingrays.” These devices can act as a cell tower in an area, intercepting calls, and finding locations of phones.
Three years later, American authorities have probably increased their abilities since, but Snowden discusses what the GCHQ is doing with consumer phones in Britain. He describes the government agency’s encoded computer programs within the UK and used the names of characters from the 1980’s cartoon, “The Smurfs.” He relayed the intel in an interview with the BBC’s “Panorama.”
“‘Dreamy Smurf’ is the power management tool, which means turning your phone on or off, without you knowing. ‘Nosey Smurf’ is the hot mixing tool, so for example, in your pocket, they can turn your microphone on and listen to everything that is going on around you. ‘Tracker Smurf’ is a geolocation tool which allows them to follow you with a greater precision than they can get from the typical triangulation of cell phone towers. They want to own your phone instead of you.”
Snowden also mentioned a program called ‘Paranoid Smurf,” which can hide the evidence of tampering. If the owner takes his phone in for service, no traces of the hacking will be found.
Considering the fact that American authorities have already used some measure of cell phone tracking for years, and the close-knit relationship between the governments of the two countries, it should be safe to assume that whatever the GCHQ can do, the NSA, their big brother, can do better. Popular NSA surveillance tools like XKEYSCORE were brought to light by Snowden previously.
Snowden is living is a state of asylum in or near Moscow, Russia, unable to return to his American homeland since he faces two counts of violation of the Espionage act and theft of government property. Russia granted him one-year asylum, later increased to three years. He has remained in Russia since June of 2013.