US Government says UAE is spying now as well – report

The US Government is now allegedly suggesting the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is using a popular messaging app to spy on individuals around the world.

According to the New York Times, Government officials have suggested the UAE Government is using a new messaging app known as ToTok to snoop on individuals. Citing classified briefings from current and former intelligence employees, as well as its own analysis, the NYT is suggesting the app can be linked to DarkMatter, a cybersecurity company some has said is a front for UAE intelligence activities.

Although the app is only a couple of months old, it has proven to be very popular around the world partly thanks to it not being subject to the same geographical restrictions as WhatsApp and Skype. It has risen through the ranks and has a huge number of positive reviews, fuelling the increasing popularity of the app.

The app itself is interested in quite a broad range of information, most notably the devices address book, location of the user and content of conversations including images and videos which have been shared. It doesn’t seem to dig deeper into other features of the devices, but this is more than enough information to keep intelligence agencies happy for the moment.

And while it is not uncommon for the US Government to shout and scream about foreign Governments spying on its citizens without proof, this seems to be a slightly different case. Both Google and Apple have now removed the app from their own app stores. There will of course be ways and means to download the app, though these are the simplest routes.

This is an important aspect of the story. Google and Apple are both money-making machines. These are companies which are not drawn into the isolationist and ‘patriotic’ cries of the US Government. The propaganda is usually ignored if there is an opportunity to create profit, though the fact the duo have dropped the app suggests there is some credibility to the claims.

5G could open us up to digital terrorism – GCHQ

Connecting our toothbrush to the internet might sound like a futuristic dreamland, but are we fast becoming the architects of our own downfall.

Writing for the Sunday Times, Head of GCHQ Jeremy Fleming has aired his concerns about the digital economy. Yes, it has the potential to create a sophisticated and efficient society with opportunity for all, but also runs the risk of a new form of danger with terrorists hijacking the very same 5G networks which are supposed to make our lives so wonderful. He even managed to drop China in, hinting at the threat of allowing the country to provide the majority of our critical communications infrastructure.

“They will transform healthcare, create smart, energy-efficient cities, make work lives more productive and revolutionise the relationship between business and the consumer,” Fleming writes. “But they also bring risks that, if unchecked, could make us more vulnerable to terrorists, hostile states and serious criminals.”

While it might sound very doom and gloom, Fleming is of course correct. The internet is a scary place with dark corners. New ideas are created every single day, some of them are a force for good, some of which will be utilised by nefarious individuals. The more light which is shed into these unexplored corridors of the web, the more we realise how exposed we are.

Unfortunately, Fleming is raising an argument which is not original; incorporating security into the building blocks of services and products, not simply treating it as an add-on. This should be the approach for making the digital economy secure, though this is rhetoric which we have been hearing for years. The more often it is said, the less impactful it becomes. Perhaps we are blindly wandering down the path to destruction purely because it is easier than tackling the difficulties of making consumers secure.

Another interesting point is collaboration. Again, this is not a new argument, but Fleming seems to be attempting justification for increased access to our digital lives. Using friendly words such as ‘collaboration’ or ‘public debate’ and ‘open co-operation’ should not put a smile on the face of an campaign which has been going on for years.

“We believe some principles allowing industry and governments to demonstrate responsible access that protects privacy are within reach,” Fleming states. “These do not require unfettered access for governments through so- called ‘back door’ or global ‘skeleton key’ schemes. But they do require public debate and close, open co-operation and agreement with technology companies. And when these solutions exist, they also require modern legislation and strong oversight to maintain public confidence.”

Fleming is right though. There does need to be a mechanism to ensure intelligence and police services can ensure our safety, but there is yet to be a sensible solution which offers security, accountability and justification. Last year, former Home Secretary Amber Rudd tried to scare us into submitting to government snooping by suggesting paedophiles use the same services as you and me. It didn’t work, though current Home Secretary Sajid Javid is yet to reveal his ambitions here. The encryption debate has been too quiet in recent months, perhaps another onslaught is on the horizon.

The dark corners of the web are full of nightmares which we are yet to discover. By connecting everything, we are making the digital dream a reality, but exposing ourselves more than ever before.