Published on Wednesday, 29 January 2014 11:26 PNN British newspaper The Guardian issued a report revealing that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been developing capabilities to take advantage of "leaky" smartphone apps, such as the wildly popular Angry Birds game, that transmit and gather users' private information across the internet. According to top-secret documents, the data pouring into communication networks from the new generation of iPhone and Android apps ranges from phone model and screen size to personal details such as age, gender and location. The Guardian Dozens of classified documents, provided to by whistleblower Edward Snowden, detail the NSA efforts to piggyback on this commercial data collection for their own purposes. Scooping up information the apps are sending about their users allows the agencies to collect large quantities of mobile phone data from their existing mass surveillance tools – such as cable taps, or from international mobile networks – rather than solely from hacking into individual mobile handsets. The documents suggested that depending on what profile information a user had supplied, the agency would be able to collect almost every key detail of a user's life: including home country, current location (through geolocation), age, gender, zip code, marital status (options included "single", "married", "divorced", "swinger" and more), income, ethnicity, sexual orientation, education level, and number of children. Any details documented to any extent by the user would be available to the NSA, and associated parties who may desire the information for their own purposes. The agencies also made use of their mobile interception capabilities to collect location information in bulk, from Google and other mapping apps. One basic effort by GCHQ and the NSA was to build a database geolocating every mobile phone mast in the world – meaning that just by taking tower ID from a handset, location information could be gleaned. It's worth mentioning that the NSA does not directly target Americans, but rather its capabilities are deployed only against "valid foreign intelligence targets". "Rovio doesn't have any previous knowledge of this matter, and have not been aware of such activity in 3rd party advertising networks," said Saara BergstrÖm, Rovio's VP of marketing and communications. "Nor do we have any involvement with the organizations you mentioned [NSA and GCHQ]." Rovio, the maker of Angry Birds, said it had no knowledge of any NSA or GCHQ programs looking to extract data from its apps users. The Guardian GCHQ's targeted tools against individual smartphones are named after characters in the TV series The Smurfs. An ability to make the phone's microphone 'hot' (to listen in to conversations) is named "Nosey Smurf". High-precision geolocation is called "Tracker Smurf", power management (an ability to stealthily activate an a phone that is apparently turned off) is "Dreamy Smurf", while the spyware's self-hiding capabilities are codenamed "Paranoid Smurf".
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