Former NSA contractor turned whistleblower Edward Snowden is designing a device to help prevent unauthorized monitoring of iPhone signals, Wired reports. The proposed device, which has been developed in cooperation with hardware hacker Andrew “Bunnie” Huang, is a case-like accessory that connects into the iPhone’s internals via its SIM card slot to monitor the signals sent to the iPhone’s internal antennas.
The add-on would constantly check on whether the iPhone radios are transmitting, and Huang and Snowden suggest that it’s an “infinitely more trustworthy method” of ensuring that no unauthorized radio signals are being sent than simply using “Airplane Mode” which can be hacked or spoofed. By designing this device, which they’ve duebbed an “introspection engine,” Snowden and Huang are looking to provide strong privacy guarantees to iPhone users who would need to shield their iPhones from “government-funded adversaries with advanced hacking and surveillance capabilities,” such as reporters working in hostile foreign countries who want to shield their locations.
The introspection engine would monitor not only cellular radio signals, but also Bluetooth, GPS, and Wi-Fi, providing alert messages or an audible alarm if those radios are transmitting anything when they’re expected to be off.
While turning off an iPhone entirely should theoretically block all outbound radio signals, some malware could be used to make a user think an iPhone is turned off when it’s actually not, and Huang noted that their goal is to allow the iPhone to still be used for other non-transmissive purposes such as taking notes and photographs, while still ensuring the iPhone’s radio signals are reliably disabled. Snowden also added that his goal in creating the device wasn’t merely to protect journalists but also to detect and expose stealthy attacks on iPhones to bring hidden smartphone surveillance techniques into the light of day.