The National Security Agency is currently using a secret technology called a “penetration tester” — or a team of attackers — that’s capable of remotely breaking into and spying on iPhones, Android devices and other smartwatches, according to a report in The Intercept.
The NSA’s system is called “penetration testing,” and involves an NSA employee standing outside his or her target’s device (typically a smartwatch) and remotely hacking into it, a spokesperson told The Intercept.
“Penetration testing uses an external attacker to exploit an existing vulnerability and is often performed for the purpose of verifying systems’ functionality, or simply for the opportunity to test them,” a spokesperson said in a statement to The Intercept.
There are also other devices, like the Samsung Galaxy S2 and the Samsung Galaxy Note, that have also been targeted with the same exploit.
The system is reportedly being used to gather information about devices’ vulnerabilities — a method that NSA analysts have already found useful. “A team of four people are stationed in New York to watch people walk around in public places, such as ATMs and grocery stores. They have video cameras to watch individuals with smartphones inside their bodies, and then record their movements when they go somewhere without their smartwatch,” The Intercept reported in April.
“We see potential for this to help our allies by collecting that information about when people are trying to buy things in public places. But we also see potential for this to be abused by a few bad actors, who could use it to identify a targeted individual and then steal money for that person in the future,” the spokesperson said, according to the report.
In its initial response to The Intercept’s report, the NSA said it did not comment on specific methods of attack.
The NSA spokesperson said that although it uses a “penetration testing” approach to target devices for hacking, it has also employed other techniques that may be used to help prevent future attacks. (RELATED: NSA Chief: NSA Isn’t Suppressing NSA Data Scans)
In July, Snowden leaked details about the existence of the NSA’s digital spy tool called “Optic Nerve.” In a speech from Russia at the RSA Security conference in San Francisco, NSA Director Admiral Michael Rogers said the NSA “never” uses these methods to collect U.S. citizen’s data.
“Optic Nerve does not have the capabilities it does not show up on our website,” said Rogers in July. “It is very
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