Hidden spy software found in Chinese-made smartphones

Star N9500By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A popular brand of Chinese-made smartphones, which are sold internationally by several major retailers, has been found to contain pre-installed monitoring software, according to a German security firm. The revelation was made on Tuesday by G Data Software, which is based in Bochum, Germany, and has a subsidiary in the United States. The firm, which was founded in 1985, said it discovered the spy software hidden deep inside the proprietary software found on the Chinese-made Star N9500. The product in question is a cheap smartphone based on the popular Samsung Galaxy S4, and can be purchased from numerous Internet retailers, including online outlets such as Amazon.com. A G Data spokesperson, Thorsten Urbanski, told reporters in Germany that his company purchased several Star N9500 telephones from an online retailer after receiving multiple messages from users of the telephone in Germany, who said the device’s operating system appeared to contain malicious software. The security firm said the Star N9500’s operating system contains hidden software applications that could allow a third party to access and steal the telephone user’s personal information. There are also secret applications that could permit a hacker to place calls from the telephone, or utilize the device’s microphone and camera without the consent of its owner. What is more, the stolen data was sent to a server based in China. G Data investigators added that their team of experts sought for “over a week” to track down the manufacturer of the Star N9500 but were unable to do so. German media reported that journalists from The Associated Press also tried to locate the manufacturer of the smartphone, by contacting several companies located in China’s southern province of Shenzhen, known as the center of the country’s telecommunications industry. Read more of this post

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Snowden leaks reveal GCHQ’s reliance on NSA money, data

GCHQ center in Cheltenham, EnglandBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Information provided by American defector and former intelligence insider Edward Snowden shows that Britain’s signals intelligence agency is very much the junior partner in an uneven relationship with its American counterpart. Snowden, a former computer expert for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA), has been given political asylum in Russia. In June, he revealed a number of enormous intelligence-collection programs, including PRISM and TEMPORA. The latter is administered by the General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Britain’s signals intelligence organization. The program enables the agency to access communications traffic carried through fiber optic cables worldwide. But GCHQ also receives data from PRISM, a massive electronic surveillance program operated by the NSA, which provides access to millions of email and online chat exchanges facilitated by some of the world’s foremost Internet service providers. Because of these arrangements, GCHQ’s access to electronic data increased by 7,000 percent between 2008 and 2012, according to an internal GCHQ document provided to The Guardian newspaper by Snowden. The agency’s immense access to information has propelled it to a leading role within Britain’s intelligence establishment. It currently receives over half of Britain’s £1.9 billion annual intelligence budget, while its employee size is more than twice that of Britain’s domestic (MI5) and external (MI6) intelligence agencies combined. Its headquarters, the so-called “doughnut building” in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, was Europe’s largest single construction project when it was being built in the early 2000s.  But the documents provided by Snowden show that, despite its considerable wealth and access to resources, GCHQ’s intelligence planners are deeply concerned about “being left behind by technology” in the fiber optic age. One internal report highlights “the pressure on the agency to deliver” and warns that “the complexity of [GCHQ’s] mission has evolved to the point where existing mission management capability is no longer fit for purpose”. Read more of this post

Situation Report: China’s Huawei Going Mobile? (Exclusive)

Huawei TechnologiesBy TIMOTHY W. COLEMAN | intelNews.org |
The Chinese firm, Huawei Technologies, a provider of information and communications technology, has been constantly under fire in the United States and around for the world for its supposed deep ties to China’s military and intelligence establishment. It is not without some justifiable concern either. Prior to starting Huawei Technologies, the company’s founder and CEO, Ren Zhengfei, served for more than 10-years in China’s People’s Liberation Army’s engineering corps. This reality, rightly or wrongly, has added fodder for concerns that Chinese government interests are intertwined with those of Huawei. On September 13, Huawei Technologies and another Chinese firm, ZTE, were the subject of a Congressional hearing titled “Investigation of the Security Threat Posed by Chinese Telecommunications Companies Huawei and ZTE”. The purpose of the hearing, as explained by the US House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, was to assess the potential danger of “telecommunications equipment manufactured by companies with believed ties to the Chinese government”. Read more of this post

Situation Report: Samsung accuses LG of corporate espionage

Samsung smartphones on display in KoreaBy TIMOTHY W. COLEMAN | intelNews.org |
Most technology companies spar with rivals over patent portfolio infringement, pricing arrangements, bundling of products and services with partners, and other trade practices. More recently, technology companies have been waging a war for talent and human capital. But in Korea, a dispute between Samsung and LG Electronics has been taken to a new level with Samsung publicly accusing LG of conducting corporate espionage. According to VenterBeat, Samsung has leveled corporate espionage charges against an employee at LG regarding particularly sensitive display technology that is used in smartphones and other mobile devices. This technology is of great value to Samsung, as its displays are used in nearly 98 percent of mobile phones around the globe. The critical display technology, active-matrix organic light-emitting diode, or MOLED, technology, is an extremely thin-film, which is a lynchpin technology for televisions and mobile devices. This technology replaced previously existing display technologies because it required significantly less power and therefore less battery drain and it also increased response rates to mere milliseconds. Such technology was perfectly positioned to help spur on the proliferation of the mobile and smartphone boom. Read more of this post

Scandinavian phone company helps ex-Soviet republics spy on citizens

TeliaSonera CEO Lars NybergBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A highly profitable cellular telecommunications company, which is jointly owned by a Swedish-Finnish public-private consortium, is enabling some of the world’s most authoritarian regimes to spy on their own citizens, according to a new report. TeliaSonera AB, the dominant telephone company and mobile network operator in Sweden and Finland, is currently active in nearly 20 countries around the world. In 2011, it posted a net profit of nearly $3 billion, 25 percent of which came from the company’s operations in countries of the former Soviet Union. They include some of TeliaSonera’s most lucrative franchises, such as Geocell in Georgia, Kcell in Kazakhstan, Ucell in Uzebekistan, Tcell in Tajikistan, and Azercell in Azerbaijan, among others. But a new investigation by Sweden’s public broadcaster, Sveriges Television AB  (SVT), accuses TeliaSonera of knowingly giving some of the world’s most oppressive governments the means to spy on their own citizens. The report, which is available online in English, effectively states that TeliaSonera is directly complicit in some of the world’s most severe human rights abuses. The accusation is bound to cause embarrassment among senior officials in the Swedish government, which owns nearly 40 percent of TeliaSonera’s stock. The SVT investigation singles out Uzbekistan, Belarus and Azerbaijan, where TeliaSonera operates monopoly cellular networks on behalf of the state, “in exchange for lucrative contracts”. While running the networks, TeliaSonera allegedly grants local intelligence agencies complete and real-time access to the all telephone calls, pen-register data, and content of text messages exchanged by users. This, says the SVT report, has in turn facilitated several arrests of pro-democracy activists and political dissidents in countries like Belarus and Azerbaijan. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #724

Shakil AfridiBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Aid group denies link to US intelligence in Pakistan. Aid group Save the Children denied accusations it has ties to US intelligence agencies in Pakistan. The organization’s denial came shortly after Dr. Shakil Afridi, a doctor the CIA recruited to help in the search for Osama bin Laden, told Pakistani interrogators that Save the Children played a role in his becoming involved with the CIA. Following Afridi’s interrogation, the Pakistani government banned some Save the Children members from leaving the country and aid supplies –including medical supplies– have been blocked by customs.
►►Is MI6 double spy’s case linked with Gareth Williams’ death? In 2010, British authorities jailed for a year MI6 employee Daniel Houghton, after he was caught trying to sell classified documents to MI5 spooks posing as foreign agents. According to newspaper The Daily Mirror, British police are now “probing a possible link between the Houghton’s case and the death of MI6 employee Gareth Williams, who was found dead in his London apartment in 2010. According to the paper, police detectives “want assurances from MI6 that Williams’ details [and] identity were not compromised” by Houghton.
►►Fears of spying hinder US license for China Mobile. China Mobile, the world’s largest mobile provider, applied in October for a license from the Federal Communications Commission to provide service between China and the United States and to build facilities on American soil. But officials from the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department’s National Security Division are concerned that the move would give the company access to physical infrastructure and Internet traffic that might allow China to spy more easily on the US government and steal intellectual property from American companies. This is according to The Los Angeles Times, which cites “people familiar with the process who declined to be identified because the deliberations are secret”. US officials and lawmakers have expressed similar concerns about a Chinese telecommunications hardware manufacturer Huawei Technologies, which is alleged to have contacts with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and the Ministry of State Security.

News you may have missed #689: NSA edition

Michael HaydenBy IAN ALLEN| intelNews.org |
►►Ex-NSA Director calls Stuxnet a ‘good idea’. General Michael Hayden, once head of the NSA and CIA, who was no longer in office when the Stuxnet attack on Iran occurred, but who would have been around when the computer virus was created, denies knowing who was behind it. He calls Stuxnet “a good idea”. But he also admits “this was a big idea, too. The rest of the world is looking at this and saying, ‘clearly, someone has legitimated this kind of activity as acceptable'”.
►►NSA develops secure Android phones. The US National Security Agency has developed and published details of an encrypted VoIP communications system using commercial off-the-shelf components and an Android operating system. A hundred US government employees participated in a pilot of Motorola hardware running hardened VoIP called ‘Project FISHBOWL’, NSA Information Assurance Directorate technical director Margaret Salter told the RSA Conference in San Francisco on Wednesday. “The beauty of our strategy is that we looked at all of the components, and took stuff out of the operating system we didn’t need”, said Salter. “This makes the attack surface very small”.
►►Senior US Defense official says DHS should lead cybersecurity. In the midst of an ongoing turf battle over how big a role the National Security Agency should play in securing America’s critical infrastructure, Eric Rosenbach, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Cyber Policy in the Department of Defense, said on Wednesday that the NSA should take a backseat to the Department of Homeland Security in this regard. “Obviously, there are amazing resources at NSA, a lot of magic that goes on there”, he said. “But it’s almost certainly not the right approach for the United States of America to have a foreign intelligence focus on domestic networks, doing something that throughout history has been a domestic function”.

Did cell phone companies help India spy on the United States?

Page from the Lords of Dharamraja document leakBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Leaked documents acquired by a computer hacker collective appear to show that international cell phone manufacturers helped Indian intelligence agencies spy on the United States, in return for access to the Indian cellular phone market. The documents, which are written in English, were posted online on Saturday by a group of Indian hackers calling themselves Lords of Dharamraja. In a statement, the group said they obtained the documents by breaking into the computer servers of Indian Military Intelligence, after managing to acquire the source code of Symantec Corporation, makers of Norton antivirus software. According to the documents, the companies arm-twisted to assist Indian intelligence agencies to spy on the US included Apple, Nokia, and Research in Motion, the company that builds BlackBerry devices. The documents also appear to show that Indian intelligence agencies were particularly eager to spy on the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission. Established by the US Congress in 2000, the Commission is tasked with researching and reporting on the national security implications of bilateral trade between the US and China. Allegedly, the cellular telephone makers provided Indian intelligence agencies with backdoor access to personal phones used by Commission members. These back doors allegedly allowed the Indian Military Intelligence Directorate and India’s Central Bureau of Investigation to spy on Commission members beginning in April of 2011. Read more of this post

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