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Friday, December 02, 2011, 02:25 pm PT (05:25 pm ET)

WikiLeaks founder claims iTunes flaw allows for covert iPhone surveillance

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange claims that an iTunes "flaw" allows surveillance companies to introduce a trojan horse onto users' computers, subsequently selling the sensitive data to government agencies.

In an interview with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London on Thursday, Assange purports that governments are using backdoors to access and store sensitive data from every single citizen in entire cities, including a new flaw in iTunes, reports the International Business Times.

"iTunes has a flaw in it and that flaw is automatically used by some of these [surveillance] companies to take over whatever computer system is running iTunes," Assange said. "And there are these sorts of backdoors into every popular phone, into every popular computer and every popular computer program."

Assange also spoke at City University in London about WikiLeaks' newly released documents that detail large-scale surveillance of citizens by their governments. He went on to say that handset makers monitor and record conversations, and have the ability to take control of a phone without knowledge or consent from the user.

The WikiLeaks founder asked the crowd who had an iPhone, BlackBerry, or uses Gmail. Assange said, "well, you're all screwed. The reality is intelligence contractors are selling right now to countries across the world mass surveillance systems for all those products.

The claim comes just days after news that a program called Caller IQ has been secretly logging and sending home extensive amounts of data from mobile users, like keystrokes and device location, though the company that develops the software says the information is used solely for analytics.

"They are selling Trojans so if you go to some website or if someone sends you an email and bang, it infects your phone with a Trojan and it records what you're saying in the room even when the phone doesn't appear to be active," Assange said.

Phones built by HTC and RIM are running Carrier IQ, and Apple recently acknowledged that although it used the software in earlier builds of the iOS platform, access to user data was limited. German regulators are currently investigating the Cupertino, Calif. tech giant's claims.

It is unclear if Assange has found a true flaw in iTunes, or is merely lumping iOS devices in with products affected by the Carrier IQ software as he has yet to detail the security breech.

Mobile user privacy has been a hot button topic in Congress as of late, with the specter of large corporations colluding with government agencies likened by Assange to an Orwellian "Big Brother" society.

Most recently, Apple found itself under the scrutiny of the U.S. Senate's Subcommittee on Privacy involving geolocation tracking in what the media dubbed "Location-Gate."


Julian Assange speaking at a news conference at the City University in London | Source: Russia Today


"We may end up in an Orwellian totalitarian surveillance state, of course that sounds bombastic but that's literally the surveillance system that we are in," Assange said. "It's total surveillance. It's a worrying situation for Western democracy."

The new claims from Assange purport that security firms are secretly selling surveillance "equipment" to states around the world, allowing governments to locate mobile phones to within 50 meters. Once again, however, it is unclear what the WikiLeaks founder meant by "equipment" as his accusations mention only software.

The iTunes backdoor has not been confirmed by a third party and Apple has yet to issue an official statement regarding the accusations.