Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden has warned that no smartphone is safe from snooping by GCHQ.
In an interview with the BBC's Panorama show, Snowden outlined surveillance tools known as Dreamy Smurf, Nosey Smurf, Tracker Smurf and Paranoid Smurf that are used to conduct real-time snooping on smartphones.
Dreamy Smurf is used to turn a mobile handset on and off without the user knowing, and Nosey Smurf is a 'hot mic' used to listen in on conversations even if the handset is switched off.
Tracker Smurf can pinpoint a smartphone's exact location, while Paranoid Smurf is used to hide any tampering with the handset by the agency.
"If you wanted to take the phone in to get it serviced because you saw something strange going on or you suspected something was wrong, it makes it much more difficult for any technician to realise that anything's gone amiss. [GCHQ wants] to own your phone instead of you," Snowden told the BBC.
Snowden explained that once GCHQ has gained access to a smartphone the agency is able to monitor "who you call, what you've texted, the things you've browsed, the list of your contacts, the places you've been [and] the wireless networks that your phone is associated with".
GCHQ uses an encrypted text message to gain access to the handsets. "It's called an 'exploit', a specially crafted message that's texted to your number like any other text message but when it arrives at your phone it's hidden from you. It doesn't display. You paid for [the phone] but whoever controls the software owns the phone. GCHQ is to all intents and purposes a subsidiary of the NSA," said Snowden.
A GCHQ spokesperson told V3 that it is long-standing policy not to comment on intelligence matters.
"All of GCHQ's work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework, which ensures that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight, including from the secretary of state, the Interception and Intelligence Services Commissioners and the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee," the agency said.
Snowden leaked a large cache of classified data to journalists at The Guardian and The New York Times in 2013 highlighting mass surveillance by the NSA, FBI, CIA and GCHQ.
Snowden attempted to flee to Ecuador after the disclosures, but was granted asylum in Russia where he now resides after the cancellation of his passport by US authorities.
Most recently, Snowden joined Twitter and quickly gained a huge following for his tweets about government surveillance and privacy.
Uncovering mass surveillance is starting to look like a viable social media strategy.— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) October 1, 2015
Q3 losses reverse Q2 gains
FBI briefing US companies to dump Kaspersky, claiming intelligence prove it a 'threat to national security'
Kaspersky rejects FBI accusations that its products are a 'threat to national security'
But breached contractor says that it simply didn't have that much data
EE follows Three in threatening legal action against Ofcom - but for entirely different reasons