Over the past several years, the National Security Agency and British intelligence teamed up to collect and store user data generated by "dozens of smartphone apps," including popular games like Angry Birds, according to a new report from The New York Times.
The allegation of a collaboration between the NSA and Britain's Government Communications Headquarters dating back to at least 2007 came from "dozens of previously undisclosed classified documents" leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
The agencies reportedly targeted "leaky apps" which included some of the most popular mobile device applications used by millions of smartphone owners.
Since 2007, "the agencies have traded recipes for grabbing location and planning data when a target uses Google Maps, and for vacuuming up address books, buddy lists, phone logs, and the geographic data embedded in photos when someone sends a post to the mobile versions of Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other services," the Times reported.
Through a series of document leaks beginning in late 2012, Snowden exposed the extent of NSA spying on digital communications around the world, not to mention the troubling ways that information might be used by NSA employees and contractors. Facing a backlash against government overreach, President Barack Obama earlier this month outlined several changes he wants to make to US surveillance programs, including an overhaul to the way the feds collect bulk phone metadata.
The exploitation of "leaky" or compromised software by the NSA and its partners has been a recurring theme in the Snowden revelations.
For example, late last year, it was reported that the NSA had convinced security software developer RSA to use an algorithm in its software encryption products that gave the agency "back door" access to data supposedly protected by those products.
Reports also began to surface in December that the NSA was collecting more than just call metadata, but has been scooping up location data from smartphones, too.
The new revelations from previously secret documents, which were also shared by The Guardian and ProPublica, add "far more details of [the US and UK agencies'] ambitions for smartphones and the apps that run on them," according to the Times.
"The efforts were part of an initiative called 'the mobile surge,' according to a 2011 British document, an analogy to the troop surges in Iraq and Afghanistan. One NSA analyst's enthusiasm was evident in the breathless title— "Golden Nugget!" —given to one slide for a top-secret 2010 talk describing iPhones and Android phones as rich resources, one document notes," the newspaper reported.
In addition to mining data via core mobile device utilities like map programs, the NSA and the British agency pursued ways to exploit newer apps like Angry Birds as they hit the market, according to the Times. But the newspaper said the documents "do not make explicit" whether the agencies were able to put recipes for spying on such newer apps into practice.