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Somebody at the NSA has a sense of humor

Somebody at the NSA has a sense of humor
by Don Dingee on 01-02-2014 at 6:30 pm

We have to go way back in the annals of entertainment history to find the origin of the word “Jeep”, not just a term of endearment hung on a WWII utility vehicle. Pictured is Eugene the Jeep, a mystical creature belonging to the 4th Dimension, who first appeared to torment Popeye the Sailor in 1936.

 So, I’m intrigued by this NSA DROPOUTJEEP story, from a couple of angles. First is the Jeep reference itself in the program name. Jeeps have the ability to appear and disappear at will via teleportation. The Jeep diet has also apparently morphed, from only orchids to now include Apples. The ability to elude capture by Tim Cook could probably make for an entire graphic novel. Touché, NSA, for a sense of humor.

Seriously, if this app actually exists and does what it says it can do – per this diagram, published by Forbes and others – nothing in the iPhone is sacred, or at least was sacred at the time. The claim is the app can take the microphone, camera, contact list, voicemail and files, and even provide cell tower location. The note at the bottom indicating physical phone access is required to install the app is somewhat comforting, meaning the NSA wouldn’t be able to broadcast it to every iOS device without further improvements.

Second is Apple’s categorical denial of complicity. For a company that says they rigorously review every app in the App Store, claims they are less vulnerable to malware, and harps on the quality of applications for other operating systems, this is suspicious. It’s possible, given the 2008 dates, that there were a gigantic set of vulnerabilities in initial releases of iPhone OS 1.x and 2.x that have long sense been closed. I doubt that, simply because if the NSA could find them by unauthorized poking around, somebody else would have, and Apple claims of operating system superiority would have exploded in every news outlet on the planet.

Achieving something like this seems highly unlikely without some kind of controlled back door and a very specific signature authorizing NSA app capability. We know BlackBerry has been subject to similar terms of commerce, requested by various governments to open up back door access to otherwise secure messaging – but that was more of an infrastructure play. Cisco, Google, and Microsoft are also being implicated in similar alleged NSA activity targeting device operating systems, with similar denials from all except Microsoft so far.

Of course, the whole thing could be a hoax, like Wimpy gladly paying Tuesday for a hamburger today. We know Apple is pretty ruthless when it comes to jailbreaking the OS. Their throwing the NSA under the bus with the fighting words “… stay ahead of malicious hackers and defend our customers from security attacks, regardless of who’s behind them” sounds very Popeye-esque. It seems somewhat risky to punch first, ask questions later when it comes to the NSA.

Unless it is part of the script. The timing of this story – less than 3 weeks after Tim Cook and other tech execs including Vint Cerf representing Google and Randall Stephenson of AT&T sat down with President Obama – also is a bit odd. That meeting could have been “let’s get our story straight, people are going to start asking questions”, or it could have been “OMG, I had no idea this was happening.” Surprise, nobody is talking, because either way somebody looks really bad.

The only word a Jeep speaks is “Jeep”, and a lot of their communication is body language. What if the back door really is open to only the NSA? Who gains from propagating a hoax like this, if it is a hoax? What if it really is NSA hackers, or their minions, versus the tech world trying to keep customers safe? The body language here doesn’t quite match the words being spoken, IMHO. What do you think?

More articles by Don Dingee…

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