Wikileak's Assange warns of Apple iTunes spy portal

By Jonny Evans

Surveillance society? Perhaps, in the fallout of the Carrier IQ crisis it appears iTunes users should beware as Apple's [AAPL] media software may carry a secret entrance used by spooks to spy on what you're doing, when they aren't cracking into your smartphones, of course. Read on...

[ABOVE: Carrier IQ: the video evidence.]

Back door man

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange says there's  "flaw" in iTunes. He claims this flaw is used by those shady security/surveillance firms to take over people's computers.

"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. And there are these sorts of backdoors into every popular phone, into every popular computer and every popular computer program," Assange claimed.

The news will likely pile on the concerns as users consider the impact of Carrier IQ and additional Wikileaks allegations. Combined, these suggest that every phone call you make, every email, SMS and Website request you send, your location and the contents of your address book can easily be made available to your mobile carrier, device maker, government, another government or ISP. This isn't some dystopian future. This is here, if the Wikileaks people are believed.

Carrier IQ

As reported elsewhere Carrier IQ is becoming this week's watchword for privacy and trust abuse. It's a typical example of an international surveillance company as it is based in a technologically sophisticated country and sells its technology to anyone who pays.

Carrier IQ is marketed as an analytics tool for mobile telcos, this software claims to exist to ensure good network performance.

However, security researcher Trevor "TrevE" Eckhart this week proved the software can also record a person's personal data, including the content of emails.

Carrier IQ has said its software doesn't record keystrokes or provide tracking tools, it is unlikely many phone users will believe this -- after all, no one was told this rootkit software was installed at the time they purchased their device, so why expect transparency now the secret's out?

Apple dumps the IQ habit

iPhone and iPad users may have reason to feel a little safer than those on other platforms -- AT&T, Samsung and others have all admitted to using this snoop's charter software.

Apple has released a statement regarding its use of the tech, indicating that it has used it in previous model iPhones, that it has been mostly removed from iOS 5, and that it has never used the software's more advanced privacy-destroying features.

"We stopped supporting Carrier IQ with iOS 5 in most of our products and will remove it completely in a future software update," Natalie Harrison, a spokeswoman for Apple, said. "With any diagnostic data sent to Apple, customers must actively opt-in to share this information, and if they do, the data is sent in an anonymous and encrypted form and does not include any personal information."

The bad news? Carrier IQ isn't the only one. This isn't a one-off event. There's all kinds of software cracks which may enable governments, agencies or anyone with the cash to pay the right security firm access to your private data.

The Arab spring connection

Wikileaks yesterday revealed a slew of new data which confirms governments across the planet -- including those otherwise condemned as 'pariah' -- have the tech they need to figure out who you are, where you are, what you are doing and who with. They can use your smartphone to take pictures of what's going on nearby, they can even track you when your phone is off or send messages via your account.

"Who here has an iPhone, who has a BlackBerry, who uses Gmail?" Assange asked. "Well you're all screwed," he continued, "the reality is that intelligence operations are selling right now mass surveillance systems for all those products," said Julian Assange.

It is interesting to consider how this information came to light. For this, you have to thank the Arab Spring, because: "When citizens overthrew the dictatorships in Egypt and Libya this year, they uncovered listening rooms where devices from Gamma corporation of the UK, Amesys of France, VASTech of South Africa and ZTE Corp of China monitored their every move online and on the phone."

But what about the iTunes back door? Is it real? Are iTunes users being spied on? Has the back door been fixed, or is it there by design? I asked Apple this morning, but the company has  so far failed to clarify this important matter.

 Got a story? Drop me a line via Twitter or in comments below and let me know. I'd like it if you chose to follow me on Twitter so I can let you know when these items are published here first on Computerworld.        

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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