Snowden designs device to warn when an iPhone is ratting out users

A conceptual rendering of a “battery case” style introspection engine for an iPhone6. (credit:

Mobile devices have without a doubt brought convenience to the masses, but that benefit comes at a high price for journalists, activists, and human rights workers who work in war-torn regions or other high-risk environments. Now, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has designed an iPhone accessory that could one day be used to prevent the devices from leaking their whereabouts.

Working with renowned hardware hacker Andrew “Bunnie” Huang, Snowden has devised the design for what the team is calling the "Introspection Engine." For now, it's aimed only at iPhone 6 models, but eventually the pair hopes to create specifications for a large line of devices. Once built, the "field-ready" accessory would monitor various radio components inside the phone to confirm they're not transmitting data when a user has put the device into airplane mode. The hardware is designed to be independent from the mobile device, under the assumption that malware-infected smartphones are a fact of life in high-risk environments.

Detecting intoxicated smartphones

"Malware packages, peddled by hackers at a price accessible by private individuals, can activate radios without any indication from the user interface," Huang and Snowden wrote in a blog post published Thursday. "Trusting a phone that has been hacked to go into airplane mode is like trusting a drunk person to judge if they are sober enough to drive."

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How hackers eavesdropped on a US Congressman using only his phone number

A US congressman has learned first-hand just how vulnerable cellphones are to eavesdropping and geographic tracking after hackers were able to record his calls and monitor his movements using nothing more than the public ten-digit phone number associated with the handset he used.

The stalking of US Representative Ted Lieu's smartphone was carried out with his permission for a piece broadcast Sunday night by 60 Minutes. Karsten Nohl of Germany-based Security Research Labs was able to record any call made to or from the phone and to track its precise location in real-time as the California congressman traveled to various points in the southern part of the state. At one point, 60 minutes played for Lieu a crystal-clear recording Nohl made of one call that discussed data collection practices by the US National Security Agency. While SR Labs had permission to carry out the surveillance, there's nothing stopping malicious hackers from doing the same thing.

The representative said he had two reactions: "First it's really creepy," he said. "And second it makes me angry. They could hear any call. Pretty much anyone has a cell phone. It could be stock trades you want someone to execute. It could be a call with a bank."

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China is building a big data plaform for “precrime”

It's "precrime" meets "thoughtcrime." China is using its substantial surveillance apparatus as the basis for a "unified information environment" that will allow authorities to profile individual citizens based upon their online behaviors, financial transactions, where they go, and who they see. The authorities are watching for deviations from the norm that might indicate someone is involved in suspicious activity. And they're doing it with a hand from technology pioneered in the US.

As Defense One's Patrick Tucker reports, the Chinese government is leveraging "predictive policing" capabilities that have been used by US law enforcement, and it has funded research into machine learning and other artificial intelligence technologies to identify human faces in surveillance video. The Chinese government has also used this technology to create a "Situation-Aware Public Security Evaluation (SAPE) platform" that predicts "security events" based on surveillance data, which includes anything from actual terrorist attacks to large gatherings of people.

The Chinese government has plenty of data to feed into such systems. China invested heavily in building its surveillance capabilities in major cities over the past five years, with spending on "domestic security and stability" surpassing China's defense budget—and turning the country into the biggest market for security technology. And in December, China's government gained a new tool in surveillance: anti-terrorism laws giving the government even more surveillance powers, and requiring any technology companies doing business in China to provide assistance in that surveillance.

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Whole lotta onions: Number of Tor hidden sites spikes—along with paranoia

Two sudden leaps in the number of advertised "hidden services" on Tor have led to rampant speculation about the cause of them. (credit: The Tor Project)

In recent weeks, the number of "hidden services"—usually Web servers and other Internet services accessible by a ".onion" address on the Tor anonymizing network—has risen dramatically. After experiencing an earlier spike in February, the number of hidden services tracked by Tor spiked to 114,000 onion addresses on March 1. They then dropped just as quickly, falling to just below 70,000 hidden services seen by Tor on Thursday—still twice the number that Tor had held steady at for most of 2015.

"We don't know what's causing this," said Kate Krauss, the director of communications and public policy for the Tor Project. "But it's not difficult for even one person—a researcher, for instance—to create a lot of new onion addresses—which is not the same as actual websites or services. In fact, we want the process of creating onion addresses to be as easy as possible to encourage the creation of more onion services. These spikes are typically temporary—and as you see from the chart, this one is already going away."

Still, there has never been this sort of wild gyration in the number of addresses in recent times—or at least as far back as the Tor Project has kept metric data. So what caused the sudden near-tripling of the size of Tor's hidden Web and its rapid contraction? Based on a deeper look at Tor's metrics and discussions with both Tor developers and security experts, the huge spike in the "size" of the hidden Web within Tor was likely caused by a perfect storm of coincidences: major Internet censorship events in at least two countries, the relatively rapid adoption of a new messaging tool, a malware explosion, and ongoing attempts to undermine the privacy of the network.

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