If you are worried that someone is trying to hack into your iPhone via radio transmissions, Edward Snowden might have the solution for you. Snowden and hardware hacker Andrew “Bunnie” Huang just announced a design for a case-like device that connects to your iPhone and detects whether its radio is transmitting a signal.
Snowden and Huang argued that phones can still transmit a signal if they are in airplane mode. Your GPS is still active even if your phone is not. They also contended that Faraday bags can still leak transmissions. A lone ranger phone therefore is not necessarily safe from surveillance.
How would this add-on work? The actual device would look like a external battery case with a small monochrome screen. Tiny probes from the device would attach themselves to the phone’s circuit board through the SIM-card slot. The wires would read the electrical signals of the two antennas in the phone that are used by its radios, including GPS, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and cellular modem. The device would then warn the user if they were being tracked.
This type of device would be particularly useful for journalists in dangerous situations. Snowden and Huang remarked, “Front-line journalists are high-value targets, and their enemies will spare no expense to silence them. In the past decade, hundreds of journalists have been captured, tortured and killed.” They also mentioned the tragic death of Marie Colvin in 2012. A lawsuit argues that Colvin was murdered by the Syrian government which was able to track her location via her phone.
Snowden, however, also admits that this device is part of a personal agenda. He is fearful that cellular signals would be able to locate him. Snowden stated, “Since 2013, I haven’t been able to have a smartphone like normal people. Wireless devices are kind of like kryptonite to me.”
The device currently is simply in the design phase. Snowden and Huang hope to develop a prototype over the next year and eventually create a supply chain in China of modified iPhones. The device’s code and hardware design will be open-source.