The American whistleblower and renowned privacy advocate Edward Snowden has revealed earlier this Thursday the concept design for an iPhone case conceived to protect mobile devices from spying on users.
The project, which is a joint venture with Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was announced during a video conference given at the iconic institution.
‘Introspection Engine,’ as its makers baptized it, has been initially designed to detect any unusual signals being transmitted or received by phone. Such signals can be active unbeknownst to users, compromising their personal data, location, and safety in the process.
Naturally, grave concerns for the future of privacy and security of mobile users were the main incentives that gave birth to the smartphone case project.
Snowden worked closely with hacker Andrew “Bunnie” Huang to materialize the idea into the presented device, and it aims to protect journalists and high profile professionals. The prototype of the gadget, which was conceived to work with the iPhone 6, would block all signals and alert its users of any anomaly that could pose a potential threat.
Smart phones, smarter cases
The first iPhone launched nearly ten years ago in 2007, closely followed by the first Android-running devices in 2008. Since then, the growth and potential of our smartphones have virtually put the whole world one swift swipe away from our hands.
As technology advances our devices do so as well, but the majority of users are mere consumers who do not realize how vulnerable they are.
Andrew “Bunnie” Wang and Edward Snowden, notorious for their reverse engineering efforts and advocacy against mass surveillance respectively, are two people who do realize this and have firsthand experience.
The ‘Introspection Engine’ free case project is the result of extensive research conducted by both of them and published a paper made available online, which details the intricacies of its functioning.
Technical language abounds in the supporting document, but the main argument is one that calls for protection using the same technologies that are used to spy on us.
To achieve this, the case-like device will block and ensure the inactivity of all mobile signals while keeping the phone’s usability. Designed as a slip-on separate attachment, users can keep using their phones to take notes, take pictures and record audio or video without any data being compromised as they do so.
This functionality is especially useful to journalists involved in highly risky investigative ventures, as well as top officials who may be targeted by government agencies. Snowden’s popularity is such, the whistleblower will have none other than Joseph Gordon-Levitt to portray him in the new movie about his life.
Snowden’s efforts have let the world know that government agencies around the world are indeed in possession of advanced technologies capable of spying on people and their personal devices. The smart case developed by Snowden and Huang would be a tough nut to crack since it works as a separate accessory that tracks cellular signals, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPS, and others.
From Russia with Love
The former contractor for the National Security Agency of the United States has been all but inactive ever since he ‘blew the whistle’ on them three years ago.
In June of 2013, Edward Snowden disclosed to the public an extraordinary amount of private documents that contained compromising information on domestic surveillance programs. Over a million documents were reportedly retrieved and in possession of Snowden, while thousands of them were leaked to the press all around the world.
The first outlets to report the scandal, first based on the content of the documents themselves, were The Washington Post and The Guardian. Later, as attention turned to the source of the leaks, the identity of Snowden as a whistleblower was revealed by the media in a calculated move by the ex-NSA contractor.
Initially putting his fate in the hands of Hong Kong officials as he fled the United States, Snowden ended up seeking asylum in Russia, where he still resides in an unknown location. His asylum was granted by Russian authorities for one year back in 2013 and then expanded to three years.
Since then he has been the subject of numerous controversies, widespread debate and media portrayals, including the Academy Award-winning documentary ‘Citizenfour’ by Laura Poitras back in 2015.
The U.S. Federal Court has charged Snowden with multiple violations of the Espionage Act and several other criminal accounts. The ‘Introspection Engine’ is the latest effort by the American specialist in his crusade to protect privacy rights and reveal both national and international threats to personal security.
Having experienced firsthand the extents to which government offices are willing to go in their search for information and power, it is only natural that Snowden seeks to provide a tool for those who most need it. The design as presented by the MIT Media Lab is just a concept, and it is expected to be fully developed into a functioning prototype shortly.
By the values it intends to protect, the specifics of the device have been made publicly available in an open-source format.
— Dave Karger (@davekarger) July 22, 2016