Spyphone Malware May Have Officials Ditching Their Cell Phones

Last December it was disclosed that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly’s cell phone had been compromised for a period of 9 to 10 months, including when the phone was turned off. Asia Times reported that Kelly’s personal calls and data were hacked and everywhere he carried the phone could be tracked via GPS. This is especially concerning if his location could be pinpointed by hackers when he was accompanying the President, a key aspect of his job.

Kelly’s phone was infected with malware known as “spyphone;” this type of malware is capable of being remotely activated even when turned off, tracking location, recording conversations, and turning the camera on. It also has the capability to transmit data either immediately or at a time when it’s likely the user will not detect activity (like in the middle of the night/early morning).

One solution being offered for governments (and the military) is to replace cell phones with securely encrypted radios that are purpose-built by government organizations with strong security.  

Kelly is not alone in this “compromised” situation. Current or former world leaders such as Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Silvio Berlusconi and John Kerry have also had their cell phones compromised, reports Asia Times. Additionally, active military personnel such as NATO troops and Israeli troops are being hacked. Does this mean that governments should ban the use of cell phones by public officials and the military?

Security is a serious issue when it comes to cell phones. The challenge is that even cell phones that are supposedly secure are likely not; cell phones are poorly designed for security, according to the account. Data can be intercepted with software that acts like a cellular transmission tower and tricks the phone into connecting. The architecture of cell phones (voice, data in multiple radio channels, GPS which is a radio receiver, WiFi, Bluetooth) exposes them to a host of opportunities for bugging. Additionally, operating systems were not designed to be secure, reported Asia Times. Plus, malware is often buried within apps or planted on cell phones via phishing scams.

October 10, 2017               

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