Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Potential National Security Lapses by Flashlight

Philip Bump, Washington Post:

Notice, though, that the photos appear to corroborate an important detail from the CNN report. “The patio was lit only with candles and moonlight, so aides used the camera lights on their phones to help the stone-faced Trump and Abe read through the documents,” Liptak writes. In DeAgazio’s first photo, you can see a phone flashlight being used in that way.

Why is this important? Mobile phones have flashlights, yes — and cameras, microphones and Internet connectivity. When Edward Snowden was meeting with reporters in Hong Kong at the moment he was leaking the material he’d stolen from the NSA, he famously asked that they place their phones in the refrigerator — blocking any radio signals in the event that the visitors’ phones had been hacked. This was considered the most secure way of ensuring that the phones couldn’t be used as wiretaps, even more secure than removing the battery. Phones — especially phones with their flashes turned on for improved visibility — are portable television satellite trucks and, if compromised, can be used to get a great deal of information about what’s happening nearby, unless precautions are taken.

A 2014 report (PDF) by SnoopWall, an anti-malware developer, found that the ten most popular flashlight apps for Android overreached the permissions they required to run. All of them had permission to capture photos and get network access. In a 2016 CBS report, SnoopWall founder Gary Miliefsky said that one flashlight app his company studied captured audio and transmitted recordings to a server in Beijing.

None of this may have happened in this incident — we’re unlikely to ever know because of the inherently secretive nature of the subject — but it could have happened because of careless disregard for basic security precautions.

Update: On February 3, Senators Tom Udall and Sheldon Whitehouse sent a letter to the president asking about what background checks and security precautions are employed at the Mar-a-Lago estate. No administration officials responded.