It is becoming increasingly clear that much of the technology we love and rely upon is actually working against us — exposing personal and valuable information we would never wish to share.
Three years ago, Edward Snowden met with reporters in a Hong Kong hotel room to spill the NSA’s secrets. There, he asked them to place their phones in the refrigerator to block any radio signals that could be used to activate the devices’ microphones or camera. Now, the famous whistleblower has helped design an open-source smartphone device that warns people when their phone’s antennae are transmitting information.
In exile from the United States, Snowden is currently confined to Moscow, but the former NSA computer specialist has found a way to make his presence known in the United States: he can connect to a wheeled contraption called a BeamPro, which is a flat-screen monitor that stands atop a pair of legs with a swiveling camera.
Snowden’s newest move is surely one the government may fear, yet anyone with a phone will likely seek to take advantage of. The goal? To protect people from being digitally spied on.
The device, originally developed to protect journalists, particularly those in conflict zones, works to alert people when their phone is sending or receiving data without their knowledge or permission. Originally designed based on iPhone 6, it will apparently work with any smartphone.
“You can think your phone’s radios are off, and not telling your location to anyone, but actually still be at risk,” explained well-known hardware hacker Andrew “Bunnie” Huang.
“Our approach is: state-level adversaries are powerful, assume the phone is compromised,” he continued. “Let’s look at hardware-related signals that are extremely difficult to fake. We want to give a you-bet-your-life assurance that the phone actually has its radios off when it says it does.”
The device is of personal interest to Snowden, whose phone has previously been used to track his location.
“Since 2013, I haven’t been able to have a smartphone like normal people,” he said .“Wireless devices are kind of like kryptonite to me.”
Huang and Snowden haven’t yet build a prototype for their device, but their detailed paper outlines how it would work. Furthermore, because the technology is open-source, essentially anyone can create it for themselves.
The duo is hoping to create a prototype in the next year, and move on to modified iPhones in China geared toward journalists thereafter.
For users who believe their phone is being tracked, the team has created a ‘kill switch,’ which allows them to quickly pull the plug on their phone. Snowden and Huang claim it is more secure than airplane mode.
The device looks like a high-tech phone case that fits over the rear camera lens, ensuring nothing is recorded without your permission. It also features a display screen at the back to keep you aware of your phone’s security status. And to monitor the internal antennae, the case wires into your phone’s hardware using the SIM-card slot, which allows electrical signals to be emitted by the cellular, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or other radio connections.
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