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Edward Snowden claims GCHQ 'Smurfs' can access your device

Edward Snowden continues to be a thorn in the side of the NSA and GCHQ, the US and UK spy agencies that were caught using surveillance technology on allies and citizens.

In a new BBC Panorama interview (opens in new tab), Snowden claims that GCHQ ‘Smurf’ programs were used by the agency to invade targeted mobiles. Already revealed by Privacy International—one of GCHQ’s targets—Snowden explained in further depth the various programs.

Nosey Smurf turns on the microphone inside a smartphone. Dreamy Smurf turns the smartphone on or off. Tracker Smurf uses geo-location to track the person. Paranoid Smurf manipulates the phone records to leave no trace of the programs. Another Smurf takes over the smartphone camera.

GCHQ pushes the Smurfs on the smartphone through a text message. Once opened, the Smurfs will unbundle from the text and infiltrate the smartphone, capable of running for months unnoticed.

It is one of the many programs used by the GCHQ to intercept communications and hack into a smartphone. This is not, however, a mass surveillance technology, instead used to track targeted devices.

The issue is many of GCHQ’s targets have been organisations trying to defend humans rights, privacy and government abuse. Instead of tackling crime or tracking terrorists, the surveillance agency seems more interested in breaking human rights by attacking neutral organisations.

GCHQ is capable of much more damaging attacks, Snowden claims that it could compromise Cisco routers in Pakistan and listen in to all types of communication within the country. The department has also been called out for attacking Belgian and Dutch companies, Belgacom and Gemalto, respectively.

The GCHQ has for the most part denied any wrongdoing, stating all of the programs are an effort to defend against terrorism and other security issues. The UK government also seems rather apathetic towards mass surveillance and hacking of allies, compared to the US where large demonstrations have changed laws in the country.

David has been a technology journalist for over six years, covering a wide range of sectors. He currently researches apps, app sectors and app markets for Business of Apps, and has written for ITProPortal, RTInsights, ReadWrite, and Digital Trends.