The NSA's Secret Source: Angry Birds?
Spy agency exploits flaws in popular apps
By Kevin Spak, Newser User
Posted Jan 27, 2014 2:10 PM CST
This undated image released by Rovio shows a poster of the company's Angry Birds app.   (AP Photo/Rovio)

(Newser) – When you fire up Angry Birds, Google Maps, or a host of other popular smartphone apps, you're opening yourself up to government spies. The NSA and its UK counterpart, the GCHQ, have been actively intercepting the data that "leaky" apps collect from users, according to a new leak from Edward Snowden, published by the Guardian, New York Times and Pro Publica. Depending on the app, the spies can skim data including your location, marital status, sexual orientation, political alignment, ethnicity, and education level.

Angry Birds, which has been criticized in the past for collecting excessive data for advertisers, is listed as a case study on the GCHQ's internal wiki. Another document boasts that anyone using Google Maps is effectively "working in support of a GCHQ system." And an NSA briefing slide describes a target uploading a photo to social media as a "gold nugget," from which their location, contact lists, and "a host of other social working data" can be gleaned. The scale these capabilities has been used on isn't clear, and the NSA responded to the report by saying it doesn't spy on "everyday Americans" or "innocent foreign citizens." Other tidbits from the report:

  • The NSA refers to its various smartphone tracking tools as Smurfs. A program that can turn microphones on, allowing spies to eavesdrop on targets, is called "Nosey Smurf," while another enabling it to turn on a powered down phone is called "Dreamy Smurf."
  • The NSA and GCHQ have a database of every mobile phone tower in the world.
  • According to one GCHQ doc, advertising cookies "are gathered in bulk, and are currently our single largest type of events."

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Showing 3 of 13 comments
Ezekiel 25:17
Jan 28, 2014 11:16 AM CST
People often complain to me about how their battery goes dead on the Iphone 5. Really, my Ip-5 can get a couple days on a charge. Then I ask them what they are doing with it and it appears they have location services turned on, they play those games like Angry Birds, and they use all those "free" apps with the sponsored advertisements. I then inform them that they are walking extensions of every spy agency on Earth. But the NSA does have some practical uses for what they do with phones. If they see a pattern of phones that suddenly cease to send signals, it means some kind of mass attack has happened on the level that would cause the phone to cease transmitting. If they simply see a stop in activity of phones in a pattern, it means the attack is most likely biological or chemical. The CDC and US and state EM agencies use phones to track mass events such as a sudden tie up in traffic.
tran_tor
Jan 27, 2014 9:49 PM CST
"With respect to the Internet and emails, this does not apply to U.S. citizens and it does not apply to people living in the United States." - President Obama, June 6, 2013
TwoSheds
Jan 27, 2014 6:27 PM CST
What happened to Taxpayer Smurf, Noble Smurf and Citizen Smurf?