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Posts Tagged ‘Network Operator’

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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