A carrier insider talks about Carrier IQ

A carrier insider talks about Carrier IQ

Summary: A network engineer from a major UK operator speaks under condition of anonymity and spills the beans on Carrier IQ.

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Why do the network operators want or need with technology like Carrier IQ?

A network engineer from a major UK operator has spoken to me under condition of anonymity and spills the beans on Carrier IQ.

Q: Had you heard about carrier IQ before this data logging story broke?

A: Yes, it's a name that's been going around for a few years now. I think the company has been around since 2006, but I first became aware of them in 2010.

Q: When did you first hear about Carrier IQ?

A: The company was promoting it's services to the company I work for.

Q: Did the company you work for use Carrier IQ technology?

A: No.

Q: Are you aware of any carrier using Carrier IQ?

A: As far as I'm aware of, no carrier in the UK uses Carrier IQ.

Q: What about specific handset manufacturers?

A: Yes, they can use it for their own data collection. Depends who licenses the service.

Q: Apple, for example?

A: Yes, I understand that the iPhone has used this technology.

Q: Why is Carrier IQ not used by UK carriers?

A: Compared to the US networks, the network in the UK is pretty small and has fewer handsets connected to it. Also, the carriers themselves can collect most of the diagnostic information they want from the network itself. I suppose there could be regulatory issues too, but I'm not in a position to comment on that.

A: So it's used in the US?

A: Yes.

Q: Which carriers?

A: I know for a fact that AT&T use Carrier IQ. Not sure about the other carriers.

Q: What's Carrier IQ used for?

A: Mostly network diagnostic stuff, especially connection failures and disconnects, and areas where signal strength is poor or non-existent. It can also be used to collect metrics such as calls made (number and duration), SMS messages sent and received, web usage, how apps are used, network data throughput and even how often the handset crashes. Carrier IQ promotes their service as a way for network operators to improve the network and user experience, not a snooping tool.

Q: Is it opt-in?

A: Check your contract. Chances are it specifies that the carrier can collect diagnostic information as a condition of you connecting to the network. If that's the case, you've opted-in already.

Q: Can Carrier IQ be used on tablets?

A: Yes.

Q: Does the data collected information that can identify the user?

A: Not as far as I'm aware of. The data that I've seen only identifies handsets by make and model.

Q: Does Carrier IQ collect keystroke information/phone numbers/SMS contents/web searches/contacts, etc?

A: Not that I'm aware of. I can't see how that information would be relevant. If nothing else it would also be a lot of information to collect and send. That kind of thing would also attract all sorts of problems. Whatever network the handset was registered to would already have access to data on calls, SMS and web usage anyway, so it wouldn't make sense for any carrier to pay a third-party to collect that direct off the handset.

Q: So why does it look like Carrier IQ is collecting information on SMS messages and keystrokes?

A: Can't say. Maybe it's a hidden feature. Maybe it's there by mistake.

Q: Do you think that Carrier IQ is a privacy issue?

A: No and yes. No in that I don't think that any carrier is using it to snoop on what users are doing. Carriers already have access to a lot of information on what its subscribers are doing simply because it's their network being used (that's how they know how much to bill you!). A carrier that was snooping on its users would be opening itself to a world of pain if caught. However, if Carrier IQ is actually logging keystrokes and SMS messages, then that's a problem because it's possible for that stored data to leak from the handset, either accidentally or through malicious intent.

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Topics: Mobility, Hardware, Security

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14 comments
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  • Slap the monkey

    OK, so we're going to put this company that makes diagnostic software out of business because yelling and screaming about them helps to sell ads and newspapers, even though all the same data is available to the carriers as a simple side effect of providing their service.
    Robert Hahn
    • RE: A carrier insider talks about Carrier IQ

      @Robert Hahn Not all the same data is available to carriers. If you type in passwords on secure sites, carriers should not have access to your encrypted data. That means that there are huge databases of peoples personal info laying around on servers somewhere that hackers can take advantage of it.
      Jimster480
  • iPhone butt-in this interview is obviously out of line since of Apple's ...

    ... devices were not using this service for recording anything privacy-related even if it was turned on (thought it does not work by default).<br><br>The scope of spying is determined by Carrier IQ clients. In this situation HTC, Samsung, LG, et cetera are to blame. They could follow Apple's way in this, but they did not and implemented this blatantly criminal version of CarrierIQ software/service.
    dderss
    • RE: A carrier insider talks about Carrier IQ

      @dderss Try reading some of the other articles. HTC and Samsung et al only install it, because it is a requirement by some American carriers. Handsets not destined for AT&T and Spring don't get the software installed.

      It certainly isn't on any of the Android devices I've looked at (several htc devices and a Galaxy SII)
      wright_is
  • It's snooping software

    "Mostly network diagnostic stuff, especially connection failures and disconnects, and areas where signal strength is poor or non-existent."

    Which you point out can be obtained from the network (and is done so in the UK), since when a handset drops without disconnecting is known to the network.

    "It can also be used to collect metrics such as calls made (number and duration), SMS messages sent and received, web usage, how apps are used"

    As the security expert points out they're intercepting the URLS, including web searches and URLS for https sessions. This is Phorm all over again, only far far worse.

    "network data throughput"
    Which is measurable on the network.

    "Carrier IQ promotes their service as a way for network operators to improve the network and user experience, not a snooping tool."

    And Phorm promoted their service as a way of making money.

    "Does the data collected information that can identify the user?"

    It is collected PER HANDSET, it includes the HANDSET ID, the carrier has the HANDSET ID for billing purposes, ergo it IDENTIFIES THE USER.

    "Q: Do you think that Carrier IQ is a privacy issue? ... No and yes....Carriers already have access to a lot of information"

    This is the key point, this app serves no useful diagnostic purpose, the useful stuff the carrier already has. What it collects is stuff that the carrier has no business knowing, what videos you play, what music you play, what searches you make on Google's HTTPS service, when/where you take photographs etc..

    The carriers DO NOT MAKE THE HANDSETS, they do not program the handsets. This was a HTC app, branded by HTC, installed by the maker of the handset.

    The actual network bandwidth, bad disconnects, etc, all of this is measurable on the network.
    guihombre
    • RE: A carrier insider talks about Carrier IQ

      @guihombre Its not on phones on all carriers. I have checked with people out of the country and the same phone models in other countries did not have the app installed.
      Jimster480
  • Who's paying for the data transmitted?

    No one's asking, notwithstanding that many users have a data plan that could have covered such traffic.
    kingkong88@...
    • RE: A carrier insider talks about Carrier IQ

      @kingkong88@...

      I'm convinced the customer is paying for that transmission. With my device sitting idle there's a 3-15k byte transmission happening about every 15 mins. And, it gets tallied in data usage.
      WayneC369
      • RE: A carrier insider talks about Carrier IQ

        @WayneC369 yep, its most likely the users. Not only that it wastes our battery life snooping on us and uploading crap to servers all the time via 3G, etc.
        Jimster480
  • RE: A carrier insider talks about Carrier IQ

    The fact of the matter is that the network can colllect all this data on its own. The things they are scanning are things they have no business tracking. That is like saying that every windows computer comes with a rootkit to see what websites you browse, the games you play, the software you use, the searches you make, so that they can improve windows. Thats just a load of crap, its a fkn ROOTKIT that snoops on data.
    Jimster480
    • RE: A carrier insider talks about Carrier IQ

      @Jimster480 Hey, leave windows out of this. You can opt in or out of windows improvement. Their is no choice with Carrier IQ. You weren't even aware of its existence. Until a couple of days ago. Thanks to a kid. Did you notice the part where it won't let you shut it down.
      MrHope
  • Similar to leaving tracing on in production code?

    I get the sense that this tool is functioning as a trace tool, recording all events, just like a tracing is used in application development. However, production apps should have all this tracing turned off (not all do).<br><br>So it is tracing all events on the handset, like it is designed to do. Keystrokes are an event, so they get captured too. However, it doesn't mean that all this trace information is being transmitted to the mothership. They may be picking up only certain trace records to send.<br><br>This is still wrong. If that information is being logged locally for any duration, then it is just a matter of time before malware finds it and starts to steal it.<br><br>I think this is just a case of incompetence, not malice. But their incompetence has left the door open for bad guys to do bad things.
    yankinwaoz
    • Re: similar to leaving tracing on in production code

      @yankinwaoz
      I agree. I watched the video showing how it can work and my first thought was that either some incompetent or lazy coders did this. And, as you stated, either way it is an open door now.
      necessaryevil
  • RE: A carrier insider talks about Carrier IQ

    To me the real question is why did it take so long for this to see the light of day. Where are the big security companies. I can't seem to get my head around the idea That Symantec, McAfee, VeriSign didn't know about this. This goes to show there is no protection for the end user.
    MrHope