Was Spyware Being Used To Track Chinese Activist Chen Guangcheng?
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
When Chinese civil rights activist Chen Guangcheng first arrived in the United States, he was given a number of gifts by supposed supporters of his cause. As it turns out, two of those gifts–an iPad and iPhone given to him by a local family who claimed to share his visions–may have been loaded with spyware capable of tracking his movement, as well as mining data and recording communications made on both devices. It is not yet publicly known who was doing the spying, but it is fortunate for Chen that the devices were screened by technicians at NYU, where he was given a one-year fellowship, before he was able to use them. This is the latest incident in a decade’s worth for Chen, who seems to invite controversy everywhere he goes. For a private investigator, the detection of spyware on electronic devices is one of the first tasks undertaken when conducting technical surveillance countermeasures.
Who do you think was doing the spying? Purely a speculative question, but as a foreign national who came to America to flee persecution, should the U.S. government be able to keep an eye on what he is doing? Should anyone?
It is fairly common practice for “those that do” to use spyware to gather key intelligence. Spyware is a general term for special code that can record and send your location, call history, images from your camera, images from your phone, contacts list, browser history, etc. We worry about the NSA and meta-data, but the real danger is from the enemy within–those whom you may trust the most. Damaging the existing iPhone and replacing it with the jail broken and spyware-laden equivalent is not that uncommon–fragile screen and such. Ex-post-facto, the simple Blackberry upgrade exchange has allowed the IT department-gone-spook to spy on employees. Today’s spyware is advanced and seamlessly integrated into the functions of Android, Blackberry and iOS. It is not in our practice to mail free iPads to suspects we are hunting down, or is it? Maybe it should be…