The NSA and its friends wanted to slap spyware on your phone through Google Play

nsa friends spyware phones google play android vulnerable
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden continues to release damning documents revealing the NSA’s questionable transgressions, this time focusing on the agency’s desire to install spyware on your phone. However, according to a report by The Intercept, the NSA didn’t act alone.

Published in collaboration with CBC News, the report revealed that the NSA and its counterparts in the Five Eyes alliance, which include agencies from Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Australia, planned to infect smartphones with spyware by hijacking the connection between the Google Play Store and your device. Codenamed IRRITANT HORN, the project would then allow the agencies to send “implants” to devices in order to collect data without users being aware of what was happening.

In order to achieve this, the agencies ran a series of workshops in 2011 and 2012 in Australia. As The Intercept puts it, smartphone traffic running through Internet cables was to be intercepted by using XKEYSCORE, an Internet spying system. After intercepting these cables, the agencies would then look at smartphone connections to app marketplace servers operated by Samsung and Google.

The agencies also discovered a vulnerability in UC Browser, a popular app browser used primarily in Asian countries like China and India. This vulnerability found the browser to be leaking identifying information on its users’ phones, information that allegedly helped these agencies uncover “covert activities” by a foreign military unit in Western countries.

Technology research group Citizen Lab, however, also discovered the vulnerability and alerted UC Browser, leading to the company issuing an update for the app that closed the hole.

The NSA has already caught flak for doing everything from tapping international leaders’ phones to the stealing of SIM card encryption keys, though this report now raises questions about whether other agencies around the world carry out equally questionable tactics in the name of security. Thankfully, Google Play is now designed to prevent “man-in-the-middle” attacks like this one, so you shouldn’t worry about such a plan being carried out.


You can now message businesses straight through Google Maps

Google has been updating Maps with a ton of new features over the past few months, and now it's back with another one -- the ability for users to message businesses directly through the Maps app.
Home Theater

What is MHL, exactly, and how does it work with your TV?

There are more ways to mirror your smartphone or tablet to your TV than you might think. Check out our rundown of MHL for everything you need to know about the wired protocol and its myriad uses.

Samsung will reportedly announce its folding smartphone at MWC in February

Samsung has been showcasing bendable display tech for a few years and now a folding smartphone might finally arrive. The Galaxy X, or perhaps the Galaxy F, may be the company's first example. Here's everything we know about it.

The 100 best Android apps turn your phone into a jack-of-all-trades

Choosing which apps to download is tricky, especially given how enormous and cluttered the Google Play Store has become. We rounded up 100 of the best Android apps and divided them neatly, with each suited for a different occasion.

Will Chrome remain our favorite web browser with the arrival of newest version?

Choosing a web browser for surfing the web can be tough with all the great options available. Here we pit the latest versions of Chrome, Opera, Firefox, Edge, and Vivaldi against one another to find the best browsers for most users.

No cash. No talking. What goes next? Welcome to your ‘app-tive’ digital life

Bank of America's 2018 Trends in Consumer Mobility Report found mobility has changed our lives. Mobile tech influences how most of us communicate, meet people, build relationships, and handle money as we move toward a cashless society.

The Motiv smart ring is coming to 20 more countries and physical stores

Remember Motiv's activity tracking smart ring? It's back with a raft of new features that adds biometric identification and token authentication, all on a device that fits on your finger.

Everything you need to know about Garmin’s GPS watches and trackers

Garmin jumped into the GPS smartwatch and fitness tracker market five years ago and has built a portfolio of devices that rivals competitor Fitbit. Here's your guide to the latest and greatest fitness devices that Garmin has to offer.

Sharp doubles down on the notch trend with Aquos R2 Compact

As if one notch wasn't enough, Japanese manufacturer Sharp unveiled a new smartphone that has two -- one teardrop style notch at the top, and a bigger notch at the bottom. Here's what the world's first dual-notch smartphone looks like.

Verizon has made its first 5G video call … with a phone that’s already out

Verizon has announced that it has successfully made its first video call, using a smartphone that's already available: The Motorola Moto Z3. To make the call, Verizon used the 5G Moto Mod.

Samsung patents show what Infinity-O display could look like on Galaxy S10

While we still may be months away from an announcement, there's no doubt about it: Samsung is working hard on its successor to the Galaxy S9. Here's everything we know about the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S10.
Home Theater

Google Chromecast and Chromecast Ultra: Everything you need to know

Google's Chromecast plugs into your TV's HDMI port, allowing you to stream content from your tablet, laptop, or smartphone directly to your TV. Here's what you need to know about all iterations, including the 4K-ready Chromecast Ultra.

The best protective iPhone cases to defend against dirt, dings, and drops

If you’re going off-road or work outdoors, it could be a good idea to invest in a tough case. These are our picks of the best protective iPhone cases for all iterations of the iPhone, from the iPhone XS to the 7.
Social Media

Build a wish list and shop videos with Instagram’s latest shopping update

Eyeing a product on Instagram? Now there are more ways to shop from the social network. Instagram just rolled out options to save products in a collection as users can also now shop from videos.