Politics

How The NSA Used Angry Birds For Spying

New NSA leaks detail how the National Security Agency exploits smartphone apps to collect user data.

How The NSA Used Angry Birds For Spying
Rovio
SMS

The latest revelations about the National Security Agency show those Angry Birds on your smartphone might actually be a Trojan Horse. A deluge of intelligence documents leaked by Edward Snowden were published Monday, and they detail some of the ways the NSA targets mobile devices.

The New York Times, The Guardian, and ProPublica all teamed up to publish this latest report on how the NSA harvests data from smartphones using "so-called leaky apps that spew everything from users' smartphone identification codes to where they have been that day."

Some of the apps noted by the Times as NSA targets include Google Maps, social media apps like Facebook and Twitter, and yes, even Angry Birds.

Rovio's popular game has been downloaded an estimated 1.7 billion times, and the company collects hoards of marketing data from those users. NSA officials have targeted the app as a potential information gold mine.

Although it's unclear whether the NSA has actually plucked user data from Angry Birds players, the mere act of targeting the game has ruffled more than a few feathers around the Internet. (Via Salon, Kotaku, BGR)

Of course, leaky apps like Angry Birds aren't the only way the NSA is going after smartphones. ProPublica published an internal slideshow from the agency detailing even more of its surveillance tactics.

One slide suggests a single user uploading a picture to social media on a phone can be a "golden nugget!" of information — providing the agency with email addresses, contact lists and even location data.

As for The Guardian, they've focused on the NSA's British counterpart, the Government Communications Headquarters or GCHQ. The paper reports GCHQ has developed a suite of tools to hack into individual devices.

And for some reason, those tools are named after Smurfs. "Nosey Smurf" lets agents access a device's microphone, "Tracker Smurf" provides precise location data about a phone, and "Dreamy Smurf" can turn on a smartphone that appears to be switched off.

As if this triple report wasn't enough, NBC published another leaked intelligence slideshow Monday, this one detailing GCHQ's efforts to monitor social media. The presentation describes a program known as "Squeaky Dolphin," which scans YouTube and Facebook traffic looking for trends and patterns.

All these leaks come just 10 days after President Obama pledged some limited reforms to the NSA's surveillance programs. And National Journal notes it's also just one day before Obama will make his State of the Union address.

"Few observers expect Obama to say much about NSA surveillance. ... Still, the two disclosures Monday â€‹indicate a possibly coordinated effort on the part of privacy advocates and members of the media to apply pressure on the White House ahead of the president's speech."

One revelation from Monday's leaks showed the NSA might be having trouble sifting through the masses of data they collect. A 2009 attempt to crunch just one month of cell phone data took 120 computers and turned up almost 9 million leads for persons of interest.