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Mobile Devices Banned From UK Cabinet Meetings Over Surveillance Fears 116

Posted by timothy
from the they-are-listening dept.
MightyMartian writes "British securities services fear foreign intelligence agencies have developed the ability to turn mobile devices such as phones and tablets into bugs without the owner's knowledge, allowing them to eavesdrop on confidential meetings. According to the article, UK security services fear China, Russia and Pakistan have figured out a way to turn mobiles into microphones, and have them transmit even when they're off. Ministers in sensitive government departments have been issued with soundproof lead-lined boxes, which they must place their mobiles in when having sensitive conversations."
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Mobile Devices Banned From UK Cabinet Meetings Over Surveillance Fears

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  • by Zaelath (2588189) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @03:32PM (#45319309)

    Do we really have to Max?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      And what the fuck is Pakistway? Is that near Stalinstan, or Armeniad?

      -- Ethanol-fueled

      • by jc42 (318812)

        And what the fuck is Pakistway?

        If you google it, you'll find that most of the hits are for exactly the text you just read in the summary. It doesn't seem to originate with /., though; that sentence is taken verbatim from a news-service report. /., like other news sites, has just posted the original article unchanged.

        There is a pakistanway.com/net site, a portal website in Pakistan. The reporter that wrote the quoted article might be a regular user of that site, and garbled the country name as a result.

      • And what the fuck is Pakistway?

        Sounds like a newfangled name for the Silk Road (the original one).

      • It's the new name for Tower Hamlets, London. Google it.
    • Before the meeting, just be sure and tell Hymie to "kill everyone's phone" - problem solved.

    • by MacDork (560499) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @03:53PM (#45319441) Journal
      Funny thing about backdoors, they can be used against you. The FBI have had this capability for years. Just google for "roving bug." What could possibly go wrong? Other people who aren't supposed to be using it have figured out how to exploit it? Do tell.
      • by evilandi (2800) <andrew@aoakley.com> on Sunday November 03, 2013 @04:52PM (#45319795) Homepage

        Funniest thing about backdoors is that almost every mobile device in the world has an ARM chip, designed in Cambridge, UK. That's Cambridge as in MI5 open recruiting ground and MI6 clandestine recruiting ground [varsity.co.uk].

        Devices manufactured in China, using a British-designed chip, routed through British Telecom using Huawei [theregister.co.uk] equipment... as you said, what could possibly go wrong?

        If I were the conspiratorial sort, I might have reason to suspect Cambridge-recruited personnel of working for the other side [wikipedia.org].

        • ARM licenses the design but the SoC engineers in other companies work with the design itself extensively. They'd probably notice a spying module. MIx's would have to infiltrate either these companies as well, or the silicon fabs.
        • Most tech companies prefer to hire experienced engineers from overseas, than inexperienced graduates from next door. (Certainly that's what we did when I worked for a tech company in Oxford anyway....)
        • by tlhIngan (30335)

          Funniest thing about backdoors is that almost every mobile device in the world has an ARM chip, designed in Cambridge, UK. That's Cambridge as in MI5 open recruiting ground and MI6 clandestine recruiting ground.

          Devices manufactured in China, using a British-designed chip, routed through British Telecom using Huawei equipment... as you said, what could possibly go wrong?

          If I were the conspiratorial sort, I might have reason to suspect Cambridge-recruited personnel of working for the other side.

          Nope.

          If you're

        • Funniest thing about backdoors is that almost every mobile device in the world has an ARM chip, designed in Cambridge, UK. That's Cambridge as in MI5 open recruiting ground and MI6 clandestine recruiting ground [varsity.co.uk].

          Devices manufactured in China, using a British-designed chip, routed through British Telecom using Huawei [theregister.co.uk] equipment... as you said, what could possibly go wrong?

          If I were the conspiratorial sort, I might have reason to suspect Cambridge-recruited personnel of working for the other side [wikipedia.org].

          All current or modern CPU designs have a microcode update capability. Perfectly good chips can be delivered, and then the microcode patch is applied. during the boot process. My android and my Linux system both do microcode updates at this boot time. For my desktop, Intel or AMD supply the "patches".

    • Do we really have to Max?

      It gets better. This also means the shoe phones too. Soon the rancorous debates will seem more like rancid debates.... unless the upgrade the ventilation.

    • I think the boxes could more approriatally called Snowden's Fridge

      • I think the boxes could more approriatally called Snowden's Fridge

        But why is it lined with lead? As a Faraday Cage, wouldn't copper or aluminum make more sense? Also, it seems easy to defeat the metal box: you could just record the conversation (metal doesn't block sound), and then transmit it later when connectivity is restored.

        • by wvmarle (1070040)

          According to TFS the box is sound-proof. So you can't record sound. And this may be why they use lead; it's heavy which may stop the sound vibrations better than light metals like aluminium.

          • by kermidge (2221646)

            You're correct on the lead; a layer of which has long been a staple of building sound-attenuating walls. Found that out in mid-'70s when doing the materials and methods research for building a recording studio. (Interesting that the band for whom the studio was originally built laid down many tracks in one of the member's three-car garage - they liked the 'bounce' off the slab. We'd sometimes be up in the rafters with sheets of plywood or sheetrock for sweetener or mute. Fun times.)

    • Unless you're holding you're meeting in a Faraday Cage I can turn a pair of old Sony Walk-man Headphones into a listening device without even touching them. It's not difficult.
  • by queazocotal (915608) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @03:34PM (#45319329)

    The Scowge of Dewocracies.

  • " lead-lined boxes"
    well they DO have to keep Supper Man from seeing in

  • by davidwr (791652) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @03:36PM (#45319345) Homepage Journal

    Is that anywhere near Norstan?

  • Good Lord! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Austrian Anarchy (3010653) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @03:37PM (#45319349) Homepage Journal
    British securities services fear foreign intelligence agencies have developed the ability to turn mobile devices such as phones and tablets into bugs without the owner's knowledge, allowing them to eavesdrop on confidential meetings.

    This is positively ancient. Just so happens the elected officials are finally beginning to use the precautions that have been used in the military and other corners of government for quite some time.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      All the recently discussed NSA abilities and programs were positively ancient as well. The real scandal is why all those countries currently up in arms over the US surveillance programs are lying their asses off when they proclaim they had no idea these surveillance programs existed. The same countries who have actually given data they have collected to the NSA and have in return requested data collected by the NSA.

    • British securities services fear foreign intelligence agencies have developed the ability to turn mobile devices such as phones and tablets into bugs without the owner's knowledge, allowing them to eavesdrop on confidential meetings.

      It wouldn't surprise me at all if GCHQ were doing it as well... (but are afraid that the others will find out about it)

      • British securities services fear foreign intelligence agencies have developed the ability to turn mobile devices such as phones and tablets into bugs without the owner's knowledge, allowing them to eavesdrop on confidential meetings.

        It wouldn't surprise me at all if GCHQ were doing it as well... (but are afraid that the others will find out about it)

        It is so old and well known that I would guess most organized crime and terrorist organizations have been practicing this for years too.

    • Don't forget biker gangs --scenes from Sons of Anarchy clearly show them putting all their cellphones in a basket (in a separate room) before they conduct their meetings. I think that most technically-savvy people are aware cellphones are modern-day tracking/listening/viewing devices. The byline should've read: ...securities services know foreign intelligence agencies...
      • Don't forget biker gangs --scenes from Sons of Anarchy clearly show them putting all their cellphones in a basket (in a separate room) before they conduct their meetings. I think that most technically-savvy people are aware cellphones are modern-day tracking/listening/viewing devices. The byline should've read: ...securities services know foreign intelligence agencies...

        That is a good example from fiction drawn from reality. In another comment I mentioned organized crime too.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The land where editors are actually competent!

  • by mbone (558574) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @03:39PM (#45319365)

    They won't let you take phones in there, either, for the same reason. And they haven't for decades now.

    • by oodaloop (1229816)
      No shit, right? Hey, if the US intelligence community won't let phones, 2-way pagers, or any electronic communications device into the SCIF, maybe it's because they know how it can be misused.
      • by AHuxley (892839)
        The US and UK at a mil and police level knew what happens. You had crime tracking fail as the criminal community had total insight into their countries larger telephone networks and the domestic computing power to track all calls.
        You had different NATO groups, NSA and factions in the cell networks of different NATO countries over the years via junk software.
        If the contractors, police and mil can get in, so can anyone with the cash, press contacts or any other gov backing.
        Once telco codes and methods a
  • Prima: Right, who's paying us?
    Secunda: Fotherington-Smythe Plc.
    Prima: And what do they want?
    Secunda: For HMRC to look the other way on their offshore banking; more unpaid labour via the Work Programme; an overseas meeting to drum up some business; hm, and they want to get into private healthcare work, so perhaps you could force the NHS to put some work out to tender?
    Prima: OK, gentlemen, let's do it. Don't forget to ask GCHQ to send them any intercepts which might be of use to them. Tertia, prepare the speech.
    Tertia: "Enterprise.. bla bla... hard working people.. bla bla.. austerity... bla bla... " hmm, growth.. nah, don't worry, should be easy to fudge these figures.
    Prima: Excellent.

  • Wait. Maybe we could make an exception for a fully open source, well code reviewed phone?

    Oh, it doesn't exist does it.

    OK, troll over. Just another opportunity to show that open source does have a unique selling point and it's not being capitalised on.

  • by maroberts (15852) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @04:00PM (#45319501) Homepage Journal

    . According to the article, UK security services fear China, Russia and Pakistway have figured out a way to turn mobiles into microphones, and have them transmit even when they're off.

    I'd be more worried about the likelihood the NSA is listening in after recent revelations

  • by SerenelyHotPest (2970223) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @04:11PM (#45319555)

    Per this [slashdot.org], I feel comfortable saying cry me a river.

    The outrage over foreign spying--in particular Chinese backdoors--on the part of the American intelligence community is really a form of the same thing: it's okay when we do it, but as soon as anyone else does the same thing to us, it's a gross affront to our privacy and the relationship we have with the spying party and possibly an act of war. I realize intelligence agencies are trained to think this way, but is it really so terribly difficult to grasp that if you don't want it done to yourself, it's probably a sign you shouldn't be doing it to others?

    • by jc42 (318812) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @04:28PM (#45319651) Homepage Journal

      ... it's okay when we do it, but as soon as anyone else does the same thing to us, it's a gross affront to our privacy and the relationship we have with the spying party and possibly an act of war.

      Well, yeah; that's because we're God's chosen people, so everything we do to those foreigners is good and moral, but if they do it to us, they're evil and wrong.

      [Plug in your favorite country, and translate to that country's official language(s), if necessary, to reach full understanding of how human governments work.]

      • by chihowa (366380) *

        Maybe you Americans are like that, but the rest of the world isn't. Before the US existed, the world was a peaceful place with puppies and rainbows and... I'm sorry, I can't keep this up with a straight face.

        I just wanted to head off those who will inevitably chime in to say that something like this would never happen in their little utopia [sordid history of their country conveniently forgotten].

  • After what has been revealed recently, anyone who thinks they are an ally of the USA needs to worry more about the NSA and other criminal organisations than Pakistan. At least they do not tell everyone that they have the divinely given duty to rule over the world. They may think it but, if so, are smart enough not to tell everyone about Pakistani Exceptionalism.

    • by HiThere (15173)

      Why is everyone still believing that they are saying what they mean. I rather expect that the left out the US because that's primarily who this is ruling is directed at.

  • by blagooly (897225)
    Funny because somebody just thought of this. Ding. Merits a Press Release. Really thought that one out eh? Love ya GB like a brother, likely always will. But y'all ain't what you used to be, yo. Canuckistan and the Oz mostly got it down still. But y'all? you're killin me.
  • Fixed that for you (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rainer_d (115765) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @04:17PM (#45319593) Homepage
    According to the article, UK security services fear China, Russia and Pakistway have also figured out a way to turn mobiles into microphones...
  • by mjwalshe (1680392) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @04:44PM (#45319741)
    Should be worried about
  • by Cow007 (735705)
    Maybe it was an illustrative device but you would not need to use lead. The standard practice is to use a Faraday bag or case which could be made of lots of different materials including lead as long as it is electrically connected to the closure. Lead is used for radiation shielding but for electro magnetic shielding a Faraday bag or cage is used...
  • by SeaFox (739806) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @06:13PM (#45320287)

    We aren't even talking about citizens being the recorders (which would be super-ironic).

    When the people in your government don't trust their closest co-workers, there's reason to be concerned about the health of the entire leadership system.

  • ...They already know what you think.

  • Infinity Bug anyone, this is indeed ancient tech. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infinity_transmitter [wikipedia.org]
  • by AHuxley (892839) on Sunday November 03, 2013 @09:14PM (#45321397) Homepage Journal
    For years the GCHQ and NSA where happy to let UK political leaders chat away. Where was the skilled UK tech insight into been secure from Russia, the press, other motivated foreigners or groups? The same understanding of the secure UK telco networks could be seen and sold by any US/NATO contractor.
    Only now does the UK gov understand what 'their' junk Enigma like cell network encryption can really be used for. The UK security staff willing, knowingly and over generations offered their countries political leadership junk encryption and told them its 'safe' to use it.
    Now the reality of having some of your skilled UK tech more in touch with the NSA, NATO and other groups in the USA sets in. Who are your trusted security staff really working for and who are they promoting internally over the years? Two spy bosses? One in the US? One for contractors in the US? One in the UK? Would they do a modern MI5 and work for Russia too? China? Cash from the press? Cash from just about anyone or group? Some other faith?
    All that UK policy about political issues, commercial deals, crime, oil, gas, weapons sales is not ending up in a safe in the Soviet Union - its been used in near real time thanks to sloppy UK staff.
  • The fact that the Slashbot editors couldn't even catch something like "Pakistway" instead of "Pakistan" is bad enough.

    But the fact that they haven't corrected the typo after this long is an absolutely sickening example of lazy assed, shoddy, don't-give-a-shit attitudes. Shame on Dyce.

  • "Ministers in sensitive government departments have been issued with soundproof lead-lined boxes, which they must place their mobiles in when having sensitive conversations."

    Have they considered taking the battery out of their phone?

  • by Ol Olsoc (1175323) on Monday November 04, 2013 @12:20AM (#45322377)
    Is this like one of those stories that tell people to make sure they cook their Thanksgiving turkey enough, and to put it in the refrigerator when it's done?

    Because this news is about as fresh as that, a wireless phone should not ever be in the vicinity of any meeting, ever.

    • Me? I am buying into companies that specialize in mouth hygiene products of all types. It is a near certainty that all future diplomacy and major corporate policy will be discussed in close head to-head meetings in the centre of huge rooms in order to prevent espionage. Bad breath will be a career-ending certainty... Note that head-to-head is exactly the way that head-lice are transmitted to others so expect to be able identify major decision-makers either by their constant head scratching or by their perma
  • "Ministers in sensitive government departments have been issued with soundproof lead-lined boxes" Excellent! Ministers need to ensure that they're still holding their electronic devices when they go into the lead-lined boxes. When you're in a box, no-one can hear you (allegedly) shout "PLEB!"
  • As a Brit, I feel that this would solve a great many problems simultaneously. No sneaky air-holes for these a*-holes either. There, I feel much better now...
  • Well, I suppose they finally found a way to get rid of people playing Angry Birds while in the government.

  • "Ministers in sensitive government departments have been issued with soundproof lead-lined boxes..." You had me nearly hopeful there but no, its only the bloody phones that are locked in the soundproof lead-lined boxes.
  • This charade, of successive governments declaring their concern/anger/whatever about "security" is beginning to turn in on itself. I watched this video [youtube.com] again just last week, which features a chap from Scotland Yard bragging about the ease with which they turned the reporter's mobile phone into a location/communications tracking and monitoring device. The UK seems to take some pride in being a world leader in surveillance and espionage. If the reported supply of chemicals to countries like Syria for use as w

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