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Posts Tagged ‘Dan Rosenberg’

Again On The Carrier IQ Saga

December 13, 2011 2 comments

Yesterday I posted evidence about the presence of the infamous Carrier IQ Software in Italy. Today another episode (I presume will not be last) of what it si becoming an endless Saga. Following the forthcoming investigations of privacy regulators in the U.S. and Europe, and the last-minute speculations concerning the fact Carrier IQ technology has been used by FBI, Carrier IQ has just published a 19 pages document trying to explain in detail what the IQ agent does. After reading the document, it is clear that the affair will not stop here.

The documents analyzes what the software really does, tries to confute Trevor Eckhart’s assertions and, most of all, admits that some SMS may have been collected (even if not in human readable form), because of a software flaw.

Interesting to mention, there are three ways in which Carrier IQ’s customers (the operators, not the end users!) install the IQ Agent: pre-load, aftermarket and embedded. The pre-load and embedded versions which differ among themselves for the fact that the pre-loaded agent may not provide RF data, cannot “typically” be deleted by an end user.

In any case Network Operators and handset manufacturers determine whether and how they deploy Carrier IQ software and what metrics that software will gather and forward to the Network Operator.

Several Remarkable Points:

The IQ Agent is able to summarize the diagnostic information before it is uploaded to the network, greatly reducing the amount of data transmitted and subsequent data processing costs. (as you will read later, looks like summarization is not done for security purposes).

In typical deployments, the IQ Agent uploads diagnostic data once per day, at a time when the device is not being used. This upload, which averages about 200 kilobytes, contains a summary of network and device performance since the last upload, typically 24 hours.

The profile, written by Carrier IQ based on information requested by operators, defines which of the available metrics may to be gathered and contains the following information:

  1. Should information be collected in anonymous mode or with the hardware serial number and the subscriber serial number being used (e.g. IMEI & IMSI)?
  2. The frequency of metrics uploads and instructions on what to do if the user is roaming or not on the network
  3. The specific metrics from which to gather data
  4. Instructions for pre-processing of metrics to create summary information

Profiles may also be subsequently updated.

As far as Trevor Eckhart’s video is concerned, and his findings related to the fact that the agent logs SMS and keystrokes in clear text, Carrier IQ indicates this log log essentially as a consequence of debug enabled, which is not a common (and recommended) situation in normal usage. Moreover the only captured keystroke is a specific numeric key code entered by the user to force the IQ Agent software to start an upload.

Our privacy is safe? Not at all, few lines after the above quoted statement the company declares that:

Carrier IQ has discovered that, due to [....] bug, in some unique circumstances, such as a when a user receives an SMS during a call, or during a simultaneous data session, SMS messages may have unintentionally been included in the layer 3 signaling traffic that is collected by the IQ Agent. These messages were encoded and embedded in layer 3 signaling traffic and are not human readable.

Although the company states that no encoded content of the SMS is available to anyone.

As far as phone numbers and URLs are concerned, this kind of information is collected by the agent if selected on a profile by the Network Operator. In any case, according to the company:

The metrics gathered by the IQ Agent are held in a secure temporary location on the device in a form that cannot be read without specifically designed tools and is never in human readable format.

About the gathered data, Carrier IQ has no rights to the data that collected into its Mobile Service Intelligence Platform.

Did you find the clarifications enough satisfactory? At first glance I am not able to understand how the collected data may be considered anonymous (as supposed from the first statement of Carrier IQ), if the operator may select a profile in which it can grab (and correlate) IMSI, IMEI or Phone Number together with the URLs visited by the (unaware) user. In this moment I cannot tell if, with a clause hidden between the lines of the contracts, mobile operators advise their customers that some personal information may be collected to improve the user experience. In any case the user should be at least provided with the option to choose. Some Device Manufacturers ask for user consent to perform similar operations. I am not aware of a similar approach by operators.

Mmh… The story will not finish here, indeed I guess the affair will soon spread to Mobile Carriers.

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Breaking: First Known Detection of Carrier IQ in Italy

December 12, 2011 2 comments

Update December 13: Carrier IQ issued an updated statement, new concerns for an endless saga…

I am proud to post here the first known detection in Italy of the infamous Carrier IQ software!

As you will probably know, everything started on Nov. 28, on the other side of the Atlantic, when Trevor Eckhart, an Android developer posted a video on YouTube showing the hidden software Carrier IQ interacting oddly with his mobile phone activity. Eckhart subsequently alleged his keystrokes and data were being collected without his permission.

Easily Predictable, speculation and accusations have immediately begun, concerning the kind of data collected by Carrier IQ and presumably transmitted to Wireless Mobile Operators: as a matter of fact subsequent investigations have shown that the Carrier IQ software is embedded on nearly every mobile phone and operator, at least in the U.S where concerns of consumer privacy led Massachusetts congressman Rep. Edward Markey to ask the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the company over concerns of consumer privacy.

But although many believed the software was logging keystrokes and collecting sensitive data, a subsequent more reasonable analysis carried on reversing the code, has shown a different scenario: the software “only” collects anonymized metrics data, although there are hooks inside the code to events such as keystrokes, possibly suggesting the implementation of this kind of functionality for future versions. Essentially the analysis confirmed the content of a statement by the company which attempted to clarify how information was being collected:

We measure and summarize performance of the device to assist Operators in delivering better service.
While a few individuals have identified that there is a great deal of information available to the Carrier IQ software inside the handset, our software does not record, store or transmit the contents of SMS messages, email, photographs, audio or video. For example, we understand whether an SMS was sent accurately, but do not record or transmit the content of the SMS. We know which applications are draining your battery, but do not capture the screen.

Nevertheless, since the clarifications did not mitigate the fact that Carrier IQ is s a potential risk to user privacy, and users may not choose to to disable it, As a consequence a bunch of Class Actions lawsuits have been filed against the main handset manufacturers and carriers including, besides the obvious Carrier IQ, AT&T, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile USA, HTC, Apple, Samsung, and Motorola Mobility.

Of course European regulators could not remain indifferent, and started immediately to  investigate Carrier IQ. Germany’s Bavarian State Authority for Data Protection was the first to contact Apple, which publicly declared to have included Carrier IQ in earlier version of iOS, with support ceased with iOS 5 and completely removed for previous versions in future software updates. The German Example has immediately been followed not only by other  regulators in the U.K., France, Ireland and Italy, but also from organizations like BEUC, the European Consumers’ Organisation that defend the users’ right to be told how their data is used.

I was wondering if Europe’s concerns were exaggerated (since so far the scandal seemed to be contained in the U.S.) until a friend of mine decided to test one of the available Carrier IQ detection tools on his Samsung Galaxy Tab, which was purchased from 3, an Italian Mobile Operator belonging to the H3G Giant.

Of course the results are shown above: the tool detected the Carrier IQ software in an inactive state. The bad thing is that, although apparently inactive, my friend told me he was not able to remove the software following the different procedures available on the web even if he did not spend so much time in its removal. So far I can only show the screenshot but he told me he will give me his device for a deep analaysis (with caution since it is his work device).

Thinking at this strange encounter, I admit I could not help but think to Samsung’s official statement concerning Carrier IQ (and reported by Engadget):

Some Samsung mobile phones do include Carrier IQ, but it’s very important to note that it’s up to the carrier to request that Samsung include that software on devices. One other important point is that Samsung does not receive any consumer user information from the phones that are equipped with Carrier IQ.

Since it is up to the carrier to request the software to be included on Samsung devices, I presume that 3 could have decided to install it on all the devices for the Italian Market. I tested the tool on My HTC Desire and Sensation XE (both belonging to Telecom Italia Mobile) with no result.

Francesco Pizzetti, Italy’s Protection of Personal Data Guarantor will have a lot to do… meanwhile he opened an investigation into how Carrier IQ works and is checking Italian mobile phones to verify where the software is in use.

Mobile devices are more and more becoming inseparable companions for our personal and professional life, and deadly enemies for our privacy…

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