When someone asks that question do they mean that they are worried about rootkits, backdoors, trojans, worms, spyware, keystroke logging; are they concerned that someone has clocked their PGP private key; do they suspect LE have a warrant to eavesdrop their voice comms; or do they fret about the integrity of SIM card encryption and the Gemalto hack? Do they fuck.
No, they don’t worry about these things because they don’t know about these things, they don’t care to spend the time understanding the threats or pay for the solutions and I don’t blame them. And that simple reality assures the continued happiness and abundant joy of the hacking for profit (LE, governments, economic imperialism) community.
If a concerned citizen is an above ordinary John Q then they follow a few simplistic tips they read after a quick Google and subsequently consider themselves bullet-proof and smart. If they are a small business they get comfortable when some self proclaimed infosec expert in a suit charges them a small fortune for “consulting”.
Good Old Fashioned Olde Worlde Surveillance
It’s not all about super-elegant hacks written by PLA Unit 61398 swirling around in the matrix gobbling up industrial secrets. A scene in the documentary CitizenFour showed Snowden using a blanket to cover his head and his laptop screen. The Snowden-Greenwald dialogue was as follows:
37:35 [Snowden pulling blanket over his head/laptop]
37:44 Greenwald: Is that about the possibility of…
37:47 Snowden [still under blanket, interrupts] visual, yeah visual collection
37:50 [Greenwald looking around the room, seems not rather sure what to think and say]
37:55 Greenwald: I don’t think at this point there is anything in this regard that will shock us. [laughter in room]
Gras Double commented on this precaution and noted that allegedly: “Still, using some advanced audio software, from the typing sound of the pressed keys, deducing from echo, reverb, comparing with the sound of a keyboard of an identical laptop, you could determine their coordinates in space. You can also analyse the movement of muscles of Snowden’s arms and extrapolate up to its fingers’ location and movement.” – a bold and sort of ridiculous claim 🙂
Another bright spark on Information Security Stack Exchange stated “He was using the blanket to fool visual recording devices attempting to steal his password, even though with modern technology x-ray or thermal imaging you could effectively ‘see through’ the blanket.”
In rebuttal it was noted “I can see how an IR Thermographic Camera has a chance to detect something if the wrong kind of blanket is used. No idea how you want to use XRay, as it requires an emitter as well as a receiver.”
Line of Sight Surveillance for the Common Man
Still – the point is made I think – visual intercepts are economically viable even for local LE – it’s just an ultra low light wifi enabled pin-hole snake camera in the right spot. One above the driver and passenger seat belt brackets in a private vehicle is a good location (easy access to and plenty of space behind the plastic covering the B pillar to store the bits).
Five uninterrupted minutes and both are installed. Just wait for the target to take a Sunday drive and game on. Most people rest the handset on their lap while typing stationary in traffic or better still upright and in front or on top of the wheel when driving – using one hand – which gives a nice unobstructed keystroke by keystroke view of their typing activities.
Most successful hacks are low tech.
From a low value non-tech savvy target you will get screen lock password, SIM lock password, their main contacts, their email password and transcripts of their conversations during the time slot – even more if they are road safety conscious and use a speaker phone. For the high value target – encryption keys, app locks, timeline stats and so on and so on.
Turning Everyday Visual Objects into Visual Microphones
When sound hits an object, it causes small vibrations of the object’s surface. This project shows how, using only high-speed video of the object, those minute vibrations can be extracted and partially recover the sound that produced them, allowing you to turn everyday objects—a glass of water, a potted plant, a box of tissues, or a bag of chips—into visual microphones.
The sound is recovered from high speed footage of a variety of objects with different properties, and uses both real and simulated data to examine some of the factors that affect the ability to visually recover sound. The researchers evaluate the quality of recovered sounds using intelligibility and SNR metrics and provide input and recovered audio samples for direct comparison.
They also explore how to leverage the rolling shutter in regular consumer cameras to recover audio from standard frame-rate videos, and use the spatial resolution of the method to visualize how sound-related vibrations vary over an object’s surface, which they can use to recover the vibration modes of an object.
In simple terms:
1. Two guys talking out of sight in a room;
2. You, outside at a distance pointing a video camera, through a window at a glass of beer on a table in the room;
3. Record the glass of beer for the duration of their conversation;
4. Take the footage and process it and extract the audio contents of the conversation that was happening out of sight;
5. No installs, no intrusion, no access to the room required, no need to see the targets;
SIM Card Encryption
Here is a sobering thought in plain language that applies to every SIM card that you have ever owned:
“US and UK intelligence agencies after the Gemalto hack in 2010 and 2011 have the ability, with the stolen encryption keys, to monitor mobile communications without seeking or receiving approval from telecom companies and foreign governments. Possessing the keys also sidesteps the need to get a warrant or a wiretap, while leaving no trace on the wireless provider’s network that the communications were intercepted. Bulk key theft additionally enables the intelligence agencies to unlock any previously encrypted communications they had already intercepted, but did not yet have the ability to decrypt.”
Sentimentality is Your Enemy
The easiest way to ensure that your smart phone remains un-hacked or returns to an un-hacked state is to be willing to survive on cheap throwaways – but most people are not willing to do that. If you are it’s simple as 🙂
1. Take the SIM out of your phone every few days / weeks / months (depending on your level of paranoia or the reality of your work / life), drill a hole in the motherboard, hit it with a hammer, microwave the mess and flush the remnants down a public toilet or a subset thereof;
2. Insert your SIM card in another cheap smart phone with the proper set of reliable tools that reduce (note the use of the word “reduce” not “remove”) your risk of infection, don’t transfer the data from the old phone or the apps and carry on. For maximum safety – bin your SIM too and buy a new one;
3. As before following a few simple rules like not downloading apps from random sites (although even the Google Play & Apple App Stores have their fair share of dodgy apps and are no guarantee of malware avoidance), don’t click on links in emails from Eastern European porn sites and don’t give your unlocked phones to strangers at airports – although you can just as easily be hacked remotely.
However, if you will insist on treating your phone as a treasured fashion accessory and have to travel everywhere with tons of personal data you haven’t looked at in years at your finger tips (just in case) – then you will not want to do the above and will insist on a different answer to the question.
The Advice “Out There”
A simple search on DuckDuckGo demonstrates the amount of posts out there on the subject and the amount of bizarre “clues” which are considered worthy of worrying about – that’s before you even get into the Android / iPhone variations and exposures. Alarm bells should ring for you apparently, according to many of these posts if:
1. On checking your bank accounts / credit cards you see unusual activity that seems to arise from app purchases that you did not make (sort of blindingly obvious I would have thought);
2. You are also to worry if your pointer starts levitating across the screen to select specific options as opposed to the random behaviour of the pointer on a busted or water damaged handset (I would have thought this would worry even the most non-savvy user or really interest all paranormal investigators);
3. Seeing photos in your gallery that you did not take (Really?) – be very worried if they are of you while watching PornHub 🙂 – RansonWare;
4. Getting text messages from unrecognized numbers with weird characters in them (Oops);
5. Notifications that flash across your screen, disappear and then can’t be found in any app or the notification centre (Seems fair);