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Ducks in a Row: Anything—As Long As It Pays…

by Miki Saxon

https://www.flickr.com/photos/pimkie_fotos/2673197411/Edward Snowden’s revelations made people hyper-conscious of government snooping, while the proliferation of mobile and connected devices has made snooping easier, not to mention very profitable.

And profit is what’s behind the rise of global cyber-arms dealers that sell human suffering and death as surely as their real-world counterparts sell weapons.

Last summer, Bill Marczak stumbled across a program that could spy on your iPhone’s contact list and messages—and even record your calls. Illuminating shadowy firms that sell spyware to corrupt governments across the globe, Marczak’s story reveals the new arena of cyber-warfare.

Marczak’s stumble revealed three zero-day exploits (“Zero days” refers to the amount of time—i.e., none—a target has to fix an entirely new kind of hack before damage can be done.).

It’s called a jailbreak and the ability to do it remotely is every hacker’s dream.

… the ability to hack remotely into the digital brains of the world’s most popular hardware—the desktops, laptops, tablets, and especially the mobile phones made by Apple. And not just break into Apple devices but actually take control of them. It was a hacker’s dream: the ability to monitor a user’s communications in real time and also to turn on his microphone and record his conversations.

In a superhuman effort, Apple patched all three exploits in just 10 days.

It’s an uplifting story, but the fact is Apple and other computer-makers are fighting a losing battle. As long as there are hackers, they will continue to find ways to hack any device that interfaces with them. These dangers were highlighted this fall when a New England company found itself the target of a mass denial-of-service attack from millions of non-computer “zombie devices” connected to the Internet—most notably baby monitors.

“What these cyber-arms dealers have done is democratize digital surveillance,” says the A.C.L.U.’s Chris Soghoian. “The surveillance tools once only used by big governments are now available to anyone with a couple hundred grand to spend.” In fact, they may be coming to your iPhone sometime soon.

Hat tip to KG for sharing the Vanity Fair article about Marczak.

Flickr image credit: Pimkie

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