5 Ways Edward Snowden’s Hack-Proof iPhone Case Could Stop Lurkers

The whistle-blower teamed up with a hardware expert to keep outsiders out of your cell phone.

(Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Jul 22, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Sean Eckhardt is TakePart's editorial fellow.

Put your phone in the refrigerator. Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden gave his lawyers this advice while discussing his plans to flee Hong Kong in 2013. After leaking details of the federal agency’s secret spying program, the whistle-blower could take no chances. As it turns out, the metal casing of the fridge is one of the few things that can interfere with the spy agency’s monitoring abilities or, for that matter, any hacker’s ability to take over a smartphone, a possibility Snowden warned of in an interview with the BBC in 2015.

Leaving a phone in the fridge isn’t always an option. Looking for a more convenient way to protect the devices from intruders, Snowden and hardware expert Andrew “Bunnie” Huang came up with a concept for an iPhone case that would simulate the fridge walls’ signal-blocking characteristics. The concept, which the two presented (still in exile, Snowden appeared via video stream) at the MIT Media Lab this week, would connect to the phone’s operating hardware through its SIM card slot to monitor the phone’s radio activity and ensure no one is listening even when the phone is supposedly safe and private in airplane mode.

Here are five things that the potential device could protect from.

1. Attacks on Journalists

With press freedom increasingly under attack by governments around the world, journalists would be natural users of the device. “Front-line journalists are high-value targets, and their enemies will spare no expense trying to silence them,” Huang and Snowden wrote in their report outlining the concept. “Unfortunately, journalists can be betrayed by their own tools. Their smartphones are also the perfect tracking device.” Journalists face dangerous circumstances while reporting in many countries. At least 57 journalists were killed in 2015 by government, military, and political groups, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

2. Real-Time Surveillance

Our phones are in our pockets every waking moment, making them a rich source of information for hackers. They can easily access microphones, cameras, and even personal correspondence such as photographs, voice-mail messages, and texts, as occurred in 2009, when The Guardian reported that News of the World repeatedly hacked into the cell phones of private citizens.

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3. Foreign Spy Agencies

When it was revealed that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used a private email server when she was on the job, questions arose about the security of classified information on her mobile devices. While FBI Director James Comey said there was no “direct evidence” that Clinton’s account had been hacked, cybersecurity experts told The New York Times, “If she used it in Russia or China, they almost certainly picked it up.” Both nations have robust hacking networks in the employ of the state.

4. Identity Theft

Smartphones are prime targets for thieves looking for financial information, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center. Credit card numbers, passwords, and social security numbers are just a few of the personal details people give out when shopping online, logging on to websites, and making phone calls.

5. The NSA

This is Edward Snowden’s concept, after all.