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The NSA has hacked your phone: What you need to know, and how to protect yourself

Each passing leak from former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden seems to paint a darker picture of the state of privacy and data security in the United States, and the world at large. At this point we’ve heard about mass surveillance of nude Webcam chats, the NSA tapping international leaders’ phones, mass metadata collection, spies pretending to be Facebook to infect computers, and countless other programs. Now, an even more frightening Snowden leak has appeared on the Intercept.

The NSA and GCHQ have had access to the vast majority of cell phone communications around the world since 2010.

The latest report reveals that the NSA and its British counterpart, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), hacked into one of the largest SIM card manufacturers’ systems to steal the encryption keys used to activate and encrypt communications between an individual’s phone and a mobile carrier’s network. Once the NSA and GCHQ gained access to the encryption keys, the agencies had unlimited access to the voice and data information of any mobile user whose SIM card was included in that specific batch of encryption keys.

Updated on 02-25-2015 by Malarie Gokey: Added statement from Gemalto, acknowledging that its systems were targeted by unknown hackers. The report also denies that the hackers were successful in spying on users through Gemalto’s SIM cards. Go to page four for more.

In other words, the NSA and GCHQ have had access to the vast majority of cell phone communications (even encrypted communication) around the world since 2010. They’ve listened to your phone calls; they’ve read your texts; and they’ve almost certainly monitored the websites you’ve visited on your mobile devices.

To make matters worse, the same hacked company that makes SIM cards also makes the chips that are embedded into your next-generation credit cards and next-generation passports.

Here’s everything you need to know about how these agencies pulled off this massive hack without anyone noticing, who they targeted, and how to protect yourself from surveillance.

Next page: How does the security of a SIM card work?

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