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Smartphone Users Now Under the NSA’s Grasp: No One is Safe From U.S. Spying

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A new privacy scandal alleges that U.S. NSA security organization may have access to all the data being sent, received, or transmitted on your smartphone. The report says that not only are Android and Apple’s iOS (iPhone, iPad) devices are at risk, but also devices running the BlackBerry operating system which is largely thought of as one of the most secure mobile operating system in the world and is relied on by large enterprises and various government agencies around the world for its claim to security.

According to German publication Spiegel, leaked internal documents that were obtained reveal that the National Security Agency “is capable of accessing user data from smart phones from all leading manufacturers.”

200px-US-DefenseIntelligenceAgency-Seal.svg“The documents state that it is possible for the NSA to tap most sensitive data held on these smart phones, including contact lists, SMS traffic, notes and location information about where a user has been,” the publication reported over the weekend.

This follows recent news that the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation can also install malware onto Android smartphones to remotely activate the microphone on devices running Google’s operating system to listen in on phone and real-time conversations.

Since U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden had leaked that the NSA operations may have backdoor access to various technologies and Internet companies, there has been a flood of privacy and security concerns around the globe. According to Snowden, the government has been snooping on calls, given access to Internet and email conversations, and recent leaks suggest that financial records and banking information is also subjected to the NSA’s tapping. The recent news on Internet tapping of smartphone data adds to the growing list of concerns over the agency’s unchecked powers and potential violation of privacy in the lives and activities of American citizens in the U.S. and abroad.

For his leaks, the U.S. government wants to bring Snowden back to the States, but he has found temporary asylum in Russia, further straining U.S.-Russian relations. The Obama administration has since tried to outline some of the NSA’s practices to ease citizen concerns and continues to cite national security as justification for its over-reaching practices.

It’s unclear what the latest leak would have on Canadian smartphone manufacturer BlackBerry, which had earlier this year changed its company name from Research in Motion to bearing the name of its popular smartphone model. BlackBerry had made a name for itself in the mobile business built on security of the information transmitted, stored, or used on its devices and products. In recent years however, BlackBerry had struggled in maintaining its popularity with users as a lot of its user base has been defecting to Android and iOS devices.

It looks like along with the U.S. NSA, Britain’s GCHQ intelligence organization had also gained access to BlackBerry’s SMS data for text messages. The organization was able to hack successfully into BlackBerry’s new SMS encryption as early as 2010.

The NSA also had successfully hacked BlackBerry’s mail system, which is delivered via BlackBerry’s proprietary BlackBerry Enterprise Server system, or BES, for corporate and government users. BlackBerry phones coupled with BES offer some of the highest levels of security in the mobile computing and smartphone business, a historically strong selling point for the smartphone manufacturer.

The strong encryption has also been a center of controversy as well for BlackBerry. It was surrounded by controversy when India had requested access to information transmitted from BlackBerry’s servers. India cited national security and the fight against terrorism as a reason for it wanting access.

The news also is surprising considering that as early as the beginning of this year, Apple’s iOS encryption for its proprietary iMessage system for chatting between iOS and Mac OS X users has been so strong that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency had separately been unable to hack or decrypt iMessage content. In its criminal investigation of drug traffickers, the DEA had requested that Apple un-encrypt select iMessage conversations as part of the DEA’s evidence gathering process because the agency was unable to do so on its own.

Since Snowden’s leaks were made public, Apple had responded stating how secure its systems were.

Tech enthusiast in Silicon Valley enjoying the possibilities of ubiquitous connectivity, information sharing, and collaboration enabled by mobile broadband. You can contact Chuong on Twitter @chuongvision or search +chuongvision on Google+.

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