Fears about the security afforded by smartphones rose sharply over the weekend, after excerpts of documents leaked by National Security Agency whistle-blower Edward Snowden revealed that the agency has successfully retrieved data from a number of different makes and models of smartphones. A report published Saturday by Der Spiegel outlined some of those capabilities.
Smartphones are no doubt an attractive target for intelligence agencies. They store not just contact information -- useful for charting a target's social network -- but also photographs, bank account numbers, passwords as well as Web searches that provide insight into people's interests. On top of that, the devices carry a GPS chip that reveals a user's location, and a camera and microphone that could be remotely activated and surreptitiously used to eavesdrop on targets in real time.
[ Are tax dollars being used to spy on taxpayers? Read NSA Paid Tech Companies Millions For Prism. ]
Of course, the NSA already has numerous non-technological means, such as a subpoena, for obtaining access to desired systems that operate inside the United States. Beyond that, however, are NSA smartphone spying worries founded?
Here are five related facts about what's known about the NSA's capabilities:
1. NSA Working Groups Develop Exploits.
The leaked documents revealed that the NSA maintains working groups for each of the major smartphone brands, including not just iPhone, Android and BlackBerry but also Nokia, which has reportedly been the most popular device for accessing extremist forums.
All models of smartphones appear to be vulnerable to some types of surveillance. For example, NSA analysts were reportedly able to retrieve vast quantities of location data from iOS users. That changed with the introduction of iOS version 4.3.3, which restricted the amount of location information stored in memory to just seven days, reported Der Speigel.