NSA planned to hack phones via Google Play store

By Silky Malhotra | Published on 22 May 2015

New documents reveal that NSA planned to infect Google Play Store with malware.

NSA planned to hack phones via Google Play store

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The NSA (National Security Agency) was planning to hack the Google Play Store and Samsung app store with an app-hijacking program, according to recent reports.

The NSA app-hijacking program, dubbed IRRITANT HORN, was set up by the US as part of a joint spying unit, according to new documents revealed obtained by The Intercept and CBC News. The documents were a part of Edward Snowden's revelation and involved Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand.

The documents mentions that NSA planned to infect Google and Samsung platforms with malware and spyware that could lead to hacking and spying on Android smartphones. The plan was to intercept traffic before it reached servers and infect certain users' phones with malware and spyware, a type of "man-in-the-middle" attack. The malware could be used to steal sensitive information from contacts and see their real-time location at all times. The latest documents are dated from 2011 to 2012 and it's still unclear whether this plan was actually implemented or not.

Reports about NSA spying have been making the rounds for a while now. Last year, the Intercept had reported that NSA had planned a mass infection of computers with malware, affecting millions of users. Reports about NSA exploiting the heartbleed bug to gather intelligence had also surfaced last year. However the security agency had denied all allegations in an official statement. NSA also targeted the UC Browser, a popular app used to surf the internet in Asia that is used by half a billion smartphone users. The agency leaked users' phone numbers, SIM card numbers and details about the device to servers in China. This revelation has further highlighted the NSA's wanton disregard for individual privacy. Although Google and other Internet companies have been encrypting data, it seems NSA is continuously finding new ways to infect devices and spy on people.

Michael Geist, an internet law expert at the University of Ottawa, told CBC News, "What they are clearly looking for are common points, points where thousands, millions of internet users actively engage in, knowing that if they can find ways to exploit those servers, they will be privy to huge amounts of data about people's internet use, and perhaps use bits and pieces of that to make correlations. All of this is being done in the name of providing safety and yet … Canadians or people around the world are put at risk," Geist said.

Source: The Intercept

Silky Malhotra

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