The NSA can plant malicious software on Apple's iPhone, turning one of the world's most popular smartphones into a pocket-sized spy, according to a leading security expert. Privacy advocate Jacob Appelbaum gave the public an unusually explicit peek into the intelligence world's toolbox at a hacking conference in Germany, pulling back the curtain on the US National Security Agency's (NSA) arsenal of high-tech spy gear.
The independent journalist and security expert said on Monday that the NSA could turn iPhones into eavesdropping tools and use radar wave devices to harvest electronic information from computers, even if they weren't online.
Appelbaum told hundreds of computer and technology experts gathered at Hamburg's Chaos Communications Conference that his revelations about the NSA's capabilities "are even worse than your worst nightmares". "What I am going to show you today is wrist-slittingly depressing," he said.
Even though in the past six months there have been an unprecedented level of public scrutiny of the NSA and its methods, Appelbaum's claims – supported by what appeared to be internal NSA slides – still caused a stir. One of the slides described how the NSA can hide malware in the iPhone, giving US intelligence agents the ability to turn the smartphone into a spying device.
Another slide showcased a futuristic-sounding device described as a "portable continuous wave generator", a remote-controlled device which – when paired with tiny electronic implants – can bounce invisible waves of energy off keyboards and monitors to see what is being typed, even if the target device isn't connected to the internet. A third slide showcased a piece of equipment called NIGHTSTAND, which can tamper with wireless internet connections from up to 13 kilometres away. An NSA spokeswoman, Vanee Vines, said she wasn't aware of Appelbaum's presentation, but that in general would not comment on "alleged foreign intelligence activities".
Apple has not yet responded publicly to the allegations. The documents included in Appelbaum's presentation were first published by German magazine Der Spiegel on Sunday and Monday. Appelbaum and Der Spiegel have both played an important role in the disclosures of NSA leaker Edward Snowden, but neither has clarified whether the most recent set of slides came from Snowden.