New Wikileaks files expose widespread mobile phone, email hacking capability

New Wikileaks files expose widespread mobile phone, email hacking capability

Summary: Wikileaks has released dozens of new documents highlighting the state of the once covert, but now lucrative private sector global surveillance industry.


LONDON -- Wikileaks founder Julian Assange unveiled today the latest batch of released files from the whistleblowing organisation.

Speaking to a number of students and members of the press, bright and optimistic as ever, said: "Who here has an iPhone? Who here has a BlackBerry? Who here uses Gmail? Well, you're all screwed."

According to Assange, over 150 private sector organisations in 25 countries have the ability to not only track mobile devices, but also intercept messages and listen to calls also.

The technologies developed by this industry can be used to access Internet browsing histories and email accounts, through computing tapping or accessing mobile phones remotely. This information is then sold as wholesale information to governments or other private industry partners.

(Source: Wikileaks)

Speaking at City University in London, he said that the publication of the 'Spy Files' is intended to be a "mass attack on the mass surveillance industry". He described the interception of this data as "lawful", it will lead society to a "totalitarian surveillance state".

Along with representatives from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, and Privacy International, documents were shown to suggest that software could not only read emails and text messages on mobile phones, but invasively alter them and send out fake messages to others.

The UK, one of the most surveilled countries in the world, with more CCTV cameras per person than any other major city, is one of the most prevalent in Internet monitoring, phone and text messaging analysis, GPS tracking and speech analysis technologies.

In the past ten years, he highlighted, the private industry had grown from a covert, behind-the-scenes industry, that primarily sold the U.S. National Security Agency, and GCHQ, the UK's third intelligence service.

Wikileaks released today 287 documents, documenting "the reality of the international mass surveillance industry", highlighting how "dictators and democracies alike" can procure this "spying system" technology developed by U.S., the UK, Australia and Canada.

Last month, it was found that Leeds-based company Datong plc. sold phone tracking and remote-disability technology to Scotland Yard, home of London's Metropolitan Police, which could then be used to track protestors or disable remotely shut-off mobile phones en masse.

ZDNet uncovered evidence to support that this technology could have been sold to oppressive regimes in the Middle East and North Africa.

In one case, a subsidiary of Nokia Siemens Networks, Trovicor supplied the government of Bahrain technology that enabled the tracking of human rights activists, the Wikileaks website said.

U.S.-based company SS8, along with Hacking Team in Italy and Vupen in France, are all said to manufacture Trojan malware that can hijack computers and phones -- including BlackBerrys, iPhones and Android devices -- and "record its every use, movement, and even the sights and sounds of the room it is in".

Wikileaks said that other companies like Czech Republic-based Phoenexia collaborate with military units to create speech analysis tools, allowing the government to acquire intelligence based on identified gender, age and even their vocal stress levels.

In one document dating back to 2006, it shows how the U.S. Department of Homeland Security sold technology to the oppressive Libyan regime to "intercept data" and acquire the "localisation of GSM", the ability to locate where mobile phones are located geographically.

Another leaked document from 2011 shows how one UK firm is "depended upon" by the government, including "law enforcement agencies, intelligence and military agencies [and] special forces". Such technologies can be "integrated into bespoke solutions for static, tracking and mobile overt and covert surveillance".


Topics: United Kingdom, Government, BlackBerry, Smartphones

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Who would have thought the phone company

    was capable of listening to your conversations on their own phone network?

    Ass-ange must be getting desparate if he's just stating the obvious anymore.
    William Farrell
    • But spying is a lot easier...

      @William Farrell
      ...if people don't expect it.
      John L. Ries
    • It is not that simple since not only phone companies are spying

      @William Farrell
    • Read carefully

      @William Farrell
      The article talks about a number of documents, so things are not completely clear on a quick read. Reading carefully, it is talking about not just the carriers themselves, but other companies and government agencies as well tracking and recording everything. (See also Carrier IQ articles.) And implies the ability to use the camera and microphone on the phone even when you aren't using them.
  • Note to everyone, if you're doing something you don't want public

    don't do it with your phone. If you are somewhere you don't want everyone to know about, leave your phone on and sitting at home.
  • Buy a faraday bag

    The same outfits that sell faraday bags to the cops will sell them to anyone. Double-bag it.
  • This is one of the benefits from WikiLeaks

    The validation of things we fear may be true and how pervasive it can be.

  • Wikileaks is moving to the next level

    The most important point of this, in my opinion, is that WikiLeaks is moving from an organization that just provides the raw, unprocessed leaks, to one that adds pre-processed, intelligent information that is embedded in the leaks.

    Expect more of this in the future.
  • BlackBerry experience

    I am not surprised, I already suspected this sound recording with my BlackBerry phone way back 2009. I was on my way home from work, driving alone at around 10:30pm with my car radio turned on loud, my BlackBerry notification light (located at the top corner of the phone) was blinking with different color, I noticed this because it was dark inside my car while I was driving. The blinking signifies it is processing something, probably recording my car stereo music. I checked whether I have new BBM msg or YM msg or sms or a missed call, but nothing. It's empty. No new messages, it's just processing something. I didn't install even a single app, except for the built-in apps by default from RIM factory. So from that time I already suspected something is wrong with my BlackBerry mic, it is recording something even not in use.
  • RE: New Wikileaks files expose widespread mobile phone, email hacking capability

    The thing about trust is, I need a reason to trust you. I can't do it just because trust is so awesome. It leaves the truster vulnerable. With cell phone companies providing me documentation that points to internal and federal policy ensuring my information security, I then TRUST that fear of law ENFORCEMENT keeps my info private. However, we should all know that's not how it works in real life. I can't prevent my information being secure if i leave it for others to control the storage so, I'm just gonna continue being mostly law abiding and unashamed. Live Right or Ditch Data
  • RE: New Wikileaks files expose widespread mobile phone, email hacking capability

    Android was designed by Google to spy on its users. That is simply Google's business model.

    With the iPhone, you can turn this off in Location Services/System Services/Diagnostics & Usage. I don't know if there is a solution in WP7.
    • RE: New Wikileaks files expose widespread mobile phone, email hacking capability

      @jorjitop This is a catastrophically ignorant statement.

      The companies that do this tracking are third-parties, neither OS-makers, OEMs, nor carriers. Third parties gather and sell this information and sell it and do it on any device and the entire point is that it is done without user consent/knowledge (the entire point of surveillance).

      In fact, if you had even read the article, Assange specifically mentioned the iPhone AND Blackberry. This is not platform specific. Why would governments and other agents want to exclude anybody from their surveillance/control?

  • The myth of privacy ...

    Nothing you do in cyberspace can be truly private because a message cannot get back to you unless every device involved in the process knows how to get it to you. Your location has to be widely known.

    If your message is encrypted, if you can trust the encryptor and the encryption, then the message content can be private - subject to those trusts.

    And if you are not who others think you are, your identity might be private from them, depending on how well you have covered your tracks. But don't count on that one - they can always follow the money ...

    In short, if it is in cyberspace it is about as private as if it was on a billboard - in fact on every billboard on the route out from you and back again. So be good.
    • RE: New Wikileaks files expose widespread mobile phone, email hacking capability

      @PassingWind no - you have the encoded response sent to usenet. example, it looks like a silly post in an unmoderated group, one of thousands. Or is a picture of something, in a binaries group focused on pictures.

      groups and people communicate all the time in usenet, mostly openly and some privately. There used to be a ton of spam-looking messages in usenet but if you started reading them they all looked like back and forth e-mails made up of silly or weird phrases.
  • RE: New Wikileaks files expose widespread mobile phone, email hacking capability

    How exactly does this security software tunnel through a 256-bit AES encrypted LINUX server? or a BitLocker encrypted Windows drive?
    • RE: New Wikileaks files expose widespread mobile phone, email hacking capability

      @rufusthorne : via root kits and trojans. Likely injected through a fake update process or OS (and subsystem) vulnerabilities. If they can control your phone remotely, that also is another avenue---and if your phone connects to your servers---jackpot again. Flowchart all the systems involved in our digital lives and there are weak points in all of them ranging from software to hardware. The ordinary hacks you hear about in daily headlines are mostly the cherry-picked vulnerabilities. Others require more sophistication but usually persistence wins out.
  • Anyone who uses a public street or anything outside of a deep cave .... subject to peeping Tom Big Brother!
    Even your body heat in the wilderness gives away your presence!
    Moral of the story?
    DON'T TRUST (unless you have nothing to hide)! lol