A Phone Hack to Foil Spying Eyes: Cover the Camera
It’s the stuff of urban legend, filtered through a 21st-century nightmare: A shadowy organization surreptitiously turns on the camera and microphone of your smartphone, changing an essential and trusted device into an insidious surveillance tool.
But according to Cynthia M. Wong, a senior internet researcher at the advocacy group Human Rights Watch, authoritarian governments are able to do that when they hack into phones and other devices belonging to dissidents and nongovernmental organizations.
但据倡导团体人权观察组织(Human Rights Watch)的互联网问题高级研究员辛西娅·M·黄(Cynthia M. Wong)介绍，威权政府能够在侵入异见人士及非政府组织的电话和其他设备后做到这一点。
Some potential targets fight back with a simple countermeasure: a sticker or a patch of masking tape over the camera lens. It doesn’t stop the hacking, of course, but “it’s an analog way to make sure you’re not being spied on” visually, Ms. Wong said.
She said that “in the old days, five to 10 years ago,” only major world powers like Russia or the United States were able to hack into phones this way. But today, smaller countries can buy the capability from private companies.
“A much broader range of activists have to worry about their own governments hacking into phones,” Ms. Wong said. “The message governments are sending is: We are watching everything you do.”
Ahmed Mansoor, a prominent dissident in the United Arab Emirates, has been getting that message for years in one way or another. Texts he received this year, ostensibly about the torture of prisoners, turned out to be the work of hackers trying to infiltrate his phone. (He still gets similar texts, even after their true nature was exposed in news reports.)
“Nothing is too strange for me anymore,” he said.
So he has taken to fighting fire with fire: When Mr. Mansoor was followed, he said, he took photos of his pursuers and posted them online.
In a constant game of cat and mouse, it pays to be a well-informed mouse. Ms. Wong and her colleague Adam Coogle say that the messaging services WhatsApp and Signal have strong encryption systems, and that Apple iPhones are more secure than some Android devices, though they may also be too expensive for some dissidents and organizations.
“Some activists just don’t do enough to protect themselves,” Mr. Coogle said.
In the meantime, there’s still that cheap, simple patch over the camera, a tactic that Ms. Wong admits she herself uses. “We tend to be a paranoid bunch,” she said.