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Tuesday, January 28, 2014, 05:15 am PT (08:15 am ET)

British spy agency said to target Apple's iPhone with remote surveillance exploit kit

The U.K.'s Government Communications Headquarters has reportedly developed a set of iPhone exploits that can turn Apple's handsets into live, remotely-accessible microphones and GPS trackers, according to new documents from NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

GCHQ Warrior Pride

Source: The Guardian


Slides from a top-secret 2010 presentation published by The Guardian provide a brief glimpse into the capabilities of GCHQ's so-called "Warrior Pride" spy kit, which gives the agency wide-ranging access to infected devices. The revelation comes amidst reports that both GCHQ and the NSA are scouring data transmitted over the internet from smartphone apps such as Google Maps and Twitter to glean personally-identifiable information like age, location, and even sexual orientation.

Warrior Pride is said to come with several plugins — named as characters from the animated series "The Smurfs" —  which allow agents to control various device systems.

"Dreamy Smurf" allows a device that is seemingly powered down to be covertly activated, "Nosey Smurf" enables eavesdropping via the device's microphone, and "Tracker Smurf" provides high-precision location data. Yet another plugin, "Paranoid Smurf," provides self-protection capabilities for the toolkit.

A fifth plugin — dubbed "Porus" — is referred to as providing "kernel stealth" capabilities. This could mean that the spyware is embedded in a manner similar to a rootkit, and might re-install itself automatically after being wiped.

In addition, the slide touts GCHQ's ability to retrieve content like SMS, e-mail, videos, photos, and web history from the device. "If its [sic] on the phone, we can get it," the slide reads.

It is unclear whether the installation of the toolkit requires physical access to a device, as a similar NSA program outed late last year did. It does appear that the GCHQ version is further along — the slide says Warrior Pride has been ported to the iPhone, while it has yet to be confirmed whether the NSA's variant ever moved past the contemplative stage.