Recent reports indicate that US and UK intelligence agencies have hacked into SIM cards and have been illegally eavesdropping on mobile phones. According to The Intercept, Gemalto, a, “multinational firm incorporated in the Netherlands that makes the chips used in mobile phones and next-generation credit cards,” were targeted by the agencies.
Gemalto’s biggest clients include T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon and Sprint as well as a further 450 wireless network providers from around the world. In total, the firm creates around 2 billion SIM cards each year.
The Guardian reports that the National Security Agency (NSA) and the British equivalent GCHQ hacked into Gemalto and stole encryption keys which allowed them to monitor calls and data. According to staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Mark Rumfold, the NSA and GCHQ had violated Dutch law and possibly laws in other territories as well.
They have the functional equivalent of our house keys…That has serious implications for privacy not just here in the US but internationally.
The Intercept says that having possession of these encryption keys will not only allow them to hack into people’s SIM cards, but can also sidestep the need for warrants or wiretaps. Use of the keys also leaves no trace of any interception on the wireless network.
Speaking to The Intercept, Gemalto executive vice president Paul Beverly insists that he and the company were unaware of any hacking being performed by any intelligence agencies, stating that he was disturbed by the news.
The most important thing for me is to understand exactly how this was done, so we can take every measure to ensure that it doesn’t happen again, and also to make sure that there’s no impact on the telecom operators that we have served in a very trusted manner for many years. What I want to understand is what sort of ramifications it has, or could have, on any of our customers.
Privacy concerns have become a major topic in modern society, particularly as the NSA were in the news again recently when sources discovered that the agency had the ability to hack into computers in any American home.
This latest scandal could be seen as yet another blow to the agency’s reputation as well as harm public opinion on its UK counterpart, forcing many to believe that they will do anything in their power to increase clandestine surveillance tactics.
Since news of the SIM card hacking came to light, many mobile phone users are finding it increasingly difficult to trust intelligence agencies, with some authorities insisting that companies will have to tighten up securities in the future.