Entries Tagged "Android"

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Samsung Television Spies on Viewers

Earlier this week, we learned that Samsung televisions are eavesdropping on their owners. If you have one of their Internet-connected smart TVs, you can turn on a voice command feature that saves you the trouble of finding the remote, pushing buttons and scrolling through menus. But making that feature work requires the television to listen to everything you say. And what you say isn’t just processed by the television; it may be forwarded over the Internet for remote processing. It’s literally Orwellian.

This discovery surprised people, but it shouldn’t have. The things around us are increasingly computerized, and increasingly connected to the Internet. And most of them are listening.

Our smartphones and computers, of course, listen to us when we’re making audio and video calls. But the microphones are always there, and there are ways a hacker, government, or clever company can turn those microphones on without our knowledge. Sometimes we turn them on ourselves. If we have an iPhone, the voice-processing system Siri listens to us, but only when we push the iPhone’s button. Like Samsung, iPhones with the “Hey Siri” feature enabled listen all the time. So do Android devices with the “OK Google” feature enabled, and so does an Amazon voice-activated system called Echo. Facebook has the ability to turn your smartphone’s microphone on when you’re using the app.

Even if you don’t speak, our computers are paying attention. Gmail “listens” to everything you write, and shows you advertising based on it. It might feel as if you’re never alone. Facebook does the same with everything you write on that platform, and even listens to the things you type but don’t post. Skype doesn’t listen—we think—but as Der Spiegel notes, data from the service “has been accessible to the NSA’s snoops” since 2011.

So the NSA certainly listens. It listens directly, and it listens to all these companies listening to you. So do other countries like Russia and China, which we really don’t want listening so closely to their citizens.

It’s not just the devices that listen; most of this data is transmitted over the Internet. Samsung sends it to what was referred to as a “third party” in its policy statement. It later revealed that third party to be a company you’ve never heard of—Nuance—that turns the voice into text for it. Samsung promises that the data is erased immediately. Most of the other companies that are listening promise no such thing and, in fact, save your data for a long time. Governments, of course, save it, too.

This data is a treasure trove for criminals, as we are learning again and again as tens and hundreds of millions of customer records are repeatedly stolen. Last week, it was reported that hackers had accessed the personal records of some 80 million Anthem Health customers and others. Last year, it was Home Depot, JP Morgan, Sony and many others. Do we think Nuance’s security is better than any of these companies? I sure don’t.

At some level, we’re consenting to all this listening. A single sentence in Samsung’s 1,500-word privacy policy, the one most of us don’t read, stated: “Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of Voice Recognition.” Other services could easily come with a similar warning: Be aware that your e-mail provider knows what you’re saying to your colleagues and friends and be aware that your cell phone knows where you sleep and whom you’re sleeping with—assuming that you both have smartphones, that is.

The Internet of Things is full of listeners. Newer cars contain computers that record speed, steering wheel position, pedal pressure, even tire pressure—and insurance companies want to listen. And, of course, your cell phone records your precise location at all times you have it on—and possibly even when you turn it off. If you have a smart thermostat, it records your house’s temperature, humidity, ambient light and any nearby movement. Any fitness tracker you’re wearing records your movements and some vital signs; so do many computerized medical devices. Add security cameras and recorders, drones and other surveillance airplanes, and we’re being watched, tracked, measured and listened to almost all the time.

It’s the age of ubiquitous surveillance, fueled by both Internet companies and governments. And because it’s largely happening in the background, we’re not really aware of it.

This has to change. We need to regulate the listening: both what is being collected and how it’s being used. But that won’t happen until we know the full extent of surveillance: who’s listening and what they’re doing with it. Samsung buried its listening details in its privacy policy—they have since amended it to be clearer—and we’re only having this discussion because a Daily Beast reporter stumbled upon it. We need more explicit conversation about the value of being able to speak freely in our living rooms without our televisions listening, or having e-mail conversations without Google or the government listening. Privacy is a prerequisite for free expression, and losing that would be an enormous blow to our society.

This essay previously appeared on CNN.com.

ETA (2/16): A German translation by Damian Weber.

Posted on February 13, 2015 at 7:01 AMView Comments

Surveillance Detection for Android Phones

It’s called SnoopSnitch:

SnoopSnitch is an app for Android devices that analyses your mobile radio traffic to tell if someone is listening in on your phone conversations or tracking your location. Unlike standard antivirus apps, which are designed to combat software intrusions or steal personal info, SnoopSnitch picks up on things like fake mobile base stations or SS7 exploits. As such, it’s probably ideally suited to evading surveillance from local government agencies.

The app was written by German outfit Security Research Labs, and is available for free on the Play Store. Unfortunately, you’ll need a rooted Android device running a Qualcomm chipset to take advantage.

Download it here.

Posted on January 14, 2015 at 1:18 PMView Comments

Whatsapp Is Now End-to-End Encrypted

Whatsapp is now offering end-to-end message encryption:

Whatsapp will integrate the open-source software Textsecure, created by privacy-focused non-profit Open Whisper Systems, which scrambles messages with a cryptographic key that only the user can access and never leaves his or her device.

I don’t know the details, but the article talks about perfect forward secrecy. Moxie Marlinspike is involved, which gives me some confidence that it’s a robust implementation.

EDITED TO ADD (11/20): Slashdot thread.

Posted on November 18, 2014 at 12:35 PMView Comments

More on Hacking Team's Government Spying Software

Hacking Team is an Italian malware company that sells exploit tools to governments. Both Kaspersky Lab and Citizen Lab have published detailed reports on its capabilities against Android, iOS, Windows Mobile, and BlackBerry smart phones.

They allow, for example, for covert collection of emails, text messages, call history and address books, and they can be used to log keystrokes and obtain search history data. They can take screenshots, record audio from the phones to monitor calls or ambient conversations, hijack the phone’s camera to snap pictures or piggyback on the phone’s GPS system to monitor the user’s location. The Android version can also enable the phone’s Wi-Fi function to siphon data from the phone wirelessly instead of using the cell network to transmit it. The latter would incur data charges and raise the phone owner’s suspicion.

[…]

Once on a system, the iPhone module uses advance techniques to avoid draining the phone’s battery, turning on the phone’s microphone, for example, only under certain conditions.

“They can just turn on the mic and record everything going on around the victim, but the battery life is limited, and the victim can notice something is wrong with the iPhone, so they use special triggers,” says Costin Raiu, head of Kaspersky’s Global Research and Analysis team.

One of those triggers might be when the victim’s phone connects to a specific WiFi network, such as a work network, signaling the owner is in an important environment. “I can’t remember having seen such advanced techniques in other mobile malware,” he says.

Hacking Team’s mobile tools also have a “crisis” module that kicks in when they sense the presence of certain detection activities occurring on a device, such as packet sniffing, and then pause the spyware’s activity to avoid detection. There is also a “wipe” function to erase the tool from infected systems.

Hacking Team claims to sell its tools only to ethical governments, but Citizen Lab has found evidence of their use in Saudi Arabia. It can’t be certain the Saudi government is a customer, but there’s good circumstantial evidence. In general, circumstantial evidence is all we have. Citizen Lab has found Hacking Team servers in many countries, but it’s a perfectly reasonable strategy for Country A to locate its servers in Country B.

And remember, this is just one example of government spyware. Assume that the NSA—as well as the governments of China, Russia, and a handful of other countries—have their own systems that are at least as powerful.

Posted on June 26, 2014 at 6:37 AMView Comments

Use of Social Media by ISIS

Here are two articles about how effectively the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)—the militant group that has just taken over half of Iraq—is using social media. Its dedicated Android app, that automatically tweets in its users’ names, is especially interesting. Also note how it coordinates the Twitter bombs for maximum effectiveness and to get around Twitter’s spam detectors.

Posted on June 17, 2014 at 10:17 AMView Comments

Security Risks from Remote-Controlled Smart Devices

We’re starting to see a proliferation of smart devices that can be controlled from your phone. The security risk is, of course, that anyone can control them from their phones. Like this Japanese smart toilet:

The toilet, manufactured by Japanese firm Lixil, is controlled via an Android app called My Satis.

But a hardware flaw means any phone with the app could activate any of the toilets, researchers say.

The toilet uses bluetooth to receive instructions via the app, but the Pin code for every model is hardwired to be four zeros (0000), meaning that it cannot be reset and can be activated by any phone with the My Satis app, a report by Trustwave’s Spiderlabs information security experts reveals.

This particular attack requires Bluetooth connectivity and doesn’t work over the Internet, but many other similar attacks will. And because these devices send to have their code in firmware, a lot of them won’t be patchable. My guess is that the toilet’s manufacturer will ignore it.

On the other end of your home, a smart TV protocol is vulnerable to attack:

The attack uses the Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV (HbbTV) standard that is widely supported in smart television sets sold in Europe.

The HbbTV system was designed to help broadcasters exploit the internet connection of a smart TV to add extra information to programmes or so advertisers can do a better job of targeting viewers.

But Yossef Oren and Angelos Keromytis, from the Network Security Lab, at Columbia University, have found a way to hijack HbbTV using a cheap antenna and carefully crafted broadcast messages.

The attacker could impersonate the user to the TV provider, websites, and so on. This attack also doesn’t use the Internet, but instead a nearby antenna. And in this case, we know that the manufacturers are going to ignore it:

Mr Oren said the standards body that oversaw HbbTV had been told about the security loophole. However, he added, the body did not think the threat from the attack was serious enough to require a re-write of the technology’s security.

Posted on June 10, 2014 at 8:24 AMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.