You have probably heard rumors in the past about the government listening in on your private phone calls, but what if it it’s true? It has recently been suggested that British and American spies stole the encryption keys from one of the largest SIM card manufacturers in the world, Gemalto.

If you are on a 3G or 4G network, then the calls you make are encrypted, but by stealing the keys, intelligence agencies were able to monitor communication between mobile phones without the knowing of customers, phone companies and foreign governments.

Stolen encryption keys allows anyone to decode data that passes between mobile phones and cell towers.

[divider]Who is Gemalto[/divider]

Gemalto is an international digital security company providing software applications, secure personal devices such as smart cards and tokens, and managed services. It is the world’s biggest maker of SIM cards.

Based in the Netherlands, Gemalto sells its SIM cards to over 450 carriers around the world, including AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint. The SIM cards in your phone contain personal information such as your mobile phone number, billing information, contacts, text messages and more, which are all private to you.

[divider]What happened?[/divider]

Last week, the dutch firm was allegedly hacked by British and American spies.  The Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ) along with the US National Security Agency (NSA) were accused of stealing confidential encryption codes from the firm in an attempt to tap into mobile phone data around the world. It is suggested that these allegations came from leaked intelligence documents passed on by Edward Snowden.

According to Snowden, Gemalto was attacked GCHQ and the NSA and that British agencies had planted malware on several of their computers, giving GCHQ access to their “entire network”.

Gemalto launched a full investigation and found “two particularly sophisticated intrusions which could be related to the operation”, concluding that these attacks “probably happened”.

On the Gemalto website, the firm stated that the “attacks against Gemalto only breached its office networks and could not have resulted in a massive theft of SIM encryption keys”. They followed by saying that the intelligence services would only be able to spy on communications on the second generation 2G mobile networks and that 3G and 4G networks are not vulnerable to this type of attack. In 2011, it was suggested that 90% of the world’s population lived in areas with 2G coverage, while only 45% lived in areas with 2G and 3G coverage.

Gemalto also said that none of their other products were impacted by this attack and criticized the agencies for targeting them despite having “no grounds for suspicion”.

[divider]Does this mean they get our data?[/divider]

It is currently unclear whether or not the intelligence agencies actually managed to get the encryption keys. Gemalto have said that the NSA “probably hacked” them, but also says it didn’t go past the office networks. We can only wait and see.

Of course, now that we have a better idea on how much privacy we actually have, does this mean we will be more cautious on what we talk about over the phone? It seems that as technology advances, the more we are being watched and listened to.

It was only earlier this month that the electronics company, Samsung, warned their consumers about their televisions listening in on them. Samsung said “the new privacy policy for the voice-activated television allows the company and its partners to listen in on everything that people say”.

The policy is as follows: “Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through the use of voice recognition”.

We should be thankful that Samsung warned their consumers about this, but unfortunately there are companies that keep it quiet and just listen in on to private conversations.

Now that you know about this, will you be more vigilant to what you are saying or texting? Are you going to use other means of communicating other than technology? Please let us know either through our Facebook page or Twitter page, we’d love to hear your views.

As always, we will keep you updated on this story as time goes on.

 

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Dominic Joseph McLaughlin - Web Developer & Editorial Administrator.

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