Ex-computer intelligence consultant at the US’ National Security Agency (NSA) Edward Snowden has said that smartphones are “worse than a spy in your pockets”.
In an exclusive interview with The Guardian, Snowden urged governments to impose a global moratorium on the international spyware trade or face a world in which no mobile phone is safe from state-sponsored hackers.
In the wake of the revelations about the clientele of the Israeli NSO Group, whose software Pegasus was used to hack mobile phones for surveillance, Snowden said the consortium’s findings illustrated “how commercial malware had made it possible for repressive regimes to place vastly more people under the most invasive types of surveillance”.
For traditional police operations to plant bugs or wiretap a suspect’s phone, law enforcement would need to “break into somebody’s house, or go to their car, or go to their office, and we’d like to think they’ll probably get a warrant”, he said.
He said: “If they can do the same thing from a distance, with little cost and no risk, they begin to do it all the time, against everyone who’s even marginally of interest.”
“If you don’t do anything to stop the sale of this technology, it’s not just going to be 50,000 targets. It’s going to be 50 million targets, and it’s going to happen much more quickly than any of us expect,” he warned.
Snowden compared companies commercialising vulnerabilities in widely used mobile phone models to an industry of “infectioneers” deliberately trying to develop new strains of disease.
“It’s like an industry where the only thing they did was create custom variants of COVID to dodge vaccines,” he said.
“Their only products are infection vectors. They’re not security products. They’re not providing any kind of protection, any kind of prophylactic. They don’t make vaccines – the only thing they sell is the virus.”