NSA eyed hijacking connections to Samsung, Google app stores

You have to hand it to the NSA and its allies. It would have moved heaven and earth to be able to spy on anyone and everyone. In the interests of national security, of course. The latest covert plans revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden strikes at the very heart of the Android world. According to leaked documents, the NSA and its counterparts in the "Five Eyes" alliance sought to ride on the traffic that connects smartphones with the likes of Google Play Store, in order to implant spyware on these devices.

The Five Eyes, composed of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia, held a workshop that tried to analyze and trace where the bulk of smartphone traffic took place. Using these, they discovered what a treasure trove Google Play Store and Samsung's Galaxy Store could be. They immediately set out to plan how to exploit this new found knowledge.

The operation was codenamed Irritant Horn, referring to the notorious vuvuzelas that permeated the 2010 World Cup. The project aimed to use these app store server to launch a MitM or Man in the Middle attack, one of the most used techniques in gaining unauthorized access to computers. It will basically masquerade as a legitimate connection between computer, in this case smartphone, and server, in this case the app store. Once the NSA has accomplished that, they planned to inject spyware to squeeze out confidential data from devices. Irritant Horn would even go as far as actually sending "selective misinformation". In other words, propaganda.

The House of Representatives have voted to curtail the powers of the NSA by passing the USA Freedom Act of 2015 though the Senate still has to weigh in. Judging by the split in among lawmakers, it will still be an uphill battle for those who want to end the NSA's long reach. Leaks like these could serve as reminders why, or at least be seeds for discussion.

At the moment, however, another debate is taking place between the tech industry and the US government. Many agencies and government officials, even the president himself, are advocating installing backdoors in software and networks, to make it easier for the likes of the NSA to gain access. When legally allowed, of course. And the NSA has proven to be only too happy to exploit such backdoors. It discovered such an exploit in UC Browser, one of the most popular browsers in East Asia. And instead of responsible disclosure, it was revealed that the NSA used that knowledge to its own gain instead, leaving users exposed not just to the NSA but to other hackers as well. Because when you install a backdoor, everyone is invited, NSA or not.

SOURCE: The Intercept