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Did Apple Help the NSA Install Spyware on Our iPhones?


Security researcher reveals the NSA may have had access to virtually all of our iPhone data, and asks if Apple had a hand in it.

While we've all been worried about putting up barricades between low-rent hackers and our data, it seems that the US government has been scaling the firewalls for years. And although that might be common knowledge given the flurry of disconcerting reports about NSA activity as of late, it's no less horrifying just how much data it has had access to.

According to security researcher Jacob Appelbaum and German news magazine Der Spiegel, the NSA has been allegedly installing spyware on our iPhones (NASDAQ:AAPL) since the very first model debuted. A leaked document paints an alarming picture of one tool, dubbed "DROPOUTJEEP," which essentially turned the smartphone into a all-encompassing bug inside our homes -- if it was indeed implemented.

The tool would allow the agency to not only retrieve data stored on the phone -- including email, text messages, address book contacts, and voicemail -- but also switch on the microphone, turn on the camera, snap pictures, and monitor cell-tower location via triangulation. With DROPOUTJEEP, the NSA could do this undetected, leaving the user completely unaware of what was happening.

And it supposedly worked: Der Spiegel reports the NSA had a 100% success rate with the DROPOUTJEEP's installation on the iPhone. The news outfit adds that our Android (NASDAQ:GOOG) and BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY) devices were also compromised, but neither to the extent of iOS hardware.

In a speech at the 30th Chaos Communication Conference in Germany, Appelbaum didn't mince words about just how scary this program is. He also points a finger at Apple and wonders if Cupertino had a hand in providing our devices to the NSA.

"Do you think Apple helped them build that?" Appelbaum asks. "I don't know. I hope Apple will clarify that."

But Appelbaum remains doubtful that Apple is totally innocent if the program was put into action.

"Here's a problem: I don't really believe that Apple didn't help them. I can't really prove it, but they [the NSA] literally claims that anytime they target an iOS device, that it will succeed for implementation."

Appelbaum adds, "Either [the NSA] has a huge collection of exploits that work against Apple products, meaning they are hoarding information about critical systems that American companies produce, and sabotaging them, or Apple sabotaged it themselves. Not sure which one it is."

But the researcher tries to remain optimistic about Apple's intentions with a pessimistic view of its code writing. "I'd like to believe that since Apple didn't join the PRISM program until after Steve Jobs died, that maybe it's just that they write [derogatory term for 'awful'] software."

Apple has yet to clarify its involvement, or lack thereof, with the NSA's spyware on our iOS devices -- and it remains unclear if the program was ever implemented. But as this story gains traction and our privacy appears to erode even further, it might have to.

See also:

Hackers Can Watch You Through Your Webcam -- Even on Newer Computers
NSA Revelations Tarnish Reputations of US Tech Firms Abroad

Let's Thank the NSA for Showing Us the Real Cost of Big Data

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