Apple denies claims of NSA iPhone backdoor program

Close-up of the Apple logo on the facade of the new Apple store, on July 1, 2010, near the Opera Garnier in Paris. BERTRAND LANGLOIS/AFP/Getty Images

Apple has responded to allegations that the company gave the National Security Agency backdoor access to iPhones.

Security expert Jacob Appelbaum told an audience at the Chaos Communications Conference in Germany on Monday that the NSA could turn iPhones into eavesdropping tools and use radar wave devices to harvest electronics information from computer even if they weren't online.

Apple released this statement on Tuesday:

Apple has never worked with the NSA to create a backdoor in any of our products, including iPhone. Additionally, we have been unaware of this alleged NSA program targeting our products. We care deeply about our customers' privacy and security. Our team is continuously working to make our products even more secure, and we make it easy for customers to keep their software up to date with the latest advancements. Whenever we hear about attempts to undermine Apple's industry-leading security, we thoroughly investigate and take appropriate steps to protect our customers. We will continue to use our resources to stay ahead of malicious hackers and defend our customers from security attacks, regardless of who's behind them.

Appelbaum’s presentation at the hacker conference coincided with new leaked documents published in German magazine Der Spiegel. 

Even though in the past six months there have been an unprecedented level of public scrutiny of the NSA and its methods, Appelbaum's claims - supported by what appeared to be internal NSA slideshows - still caused a stir.

One of the slides described how the NSA can plant malicious software onto Apple Inc.'s iPhone, giving American intelligence agents the ability to turn the popular smartphone into a pocket-sized spy.

 

 Another slide showcased a futuristic-sounding device described as a "portable continuous wave generator," a remote controlled device which - when paired with tiny electronic implants - can bounce invisible waves of energy off keyboards and monitors to see what is being typed even if the target device isn't connected to the Internet.

A third slide showcased a piece of equipment called NIGHTSTAND, which can tamper with wireless Internet connections from up to 8 miles away.

An NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines said that she wasn't aware of Appelbaum's presentation, but that in general should would not comment on "alleged foreign intelligence activities."

"As we've said before:  NSA's focus is on targeting the communications of valid foreign intelligence targets - not on collecting and exploiting a class of communications or services that would sweep up communications that are not of bona fide foreign intelligence interest to the U.S. government," Vines said.

Appelbaum and Der Spiegel have both played an important role in the disclosures of NSA leaker Edward Snowden, but neither has clarified whether the most recent set of slides came from Snowden.

 

Der Spiegel's revelations related to a division of the NSA known as Tailored Access Operations, or TAO, which is painted as an elite team of hackers specializing in stealing data from the toughest of targets.

Citing internal NSA documents, the magazine said Sunday that TAO's mission was "Getting the ungettable," and quoted an unnamed intelligence official as saying that TAO had gathered "some of the most significant intelligence our country has ever seen."

Der Spiegel said TAO had a catalog of high-tech gadgets for particularly hard-to-crack cases, including computer monitor cables specially modified to record what is being typed across the screen, USB sticks secretly fitted with radio transmitters to broadcast stolen data over the airwaves, and fake base stations intended to intercept mobile phone signals on the go.

Additionally, the magazine reported the NSA was intercepting computer deliveries to install spying abilities on them, and suggested the agency was "compromising the technology and products of American companies" like Dell and Microsoft.

Comments

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.