Language Selection

English French German Italian Portuguese Spanish

Secret Back Doors in Android

Filed under
Just talk

I am everything but a Google basher and I spent a lot of my life descending deep into research of Google foes, Google smear campaigns, lawsuits by proxy, and antitrust actions by proxy. I also advocate Android, but in recent years I have been increasingly concerned about the direction it is taking. I wish to share my latest concern. It relates to what the media characterises as "anti-theft" but is actually a facility to kill phones in a protest or convert them into hostile listening devices. Technology impacts human rights and those who control technology can be tempted to control humans.

Google habitually updates my tablet. It is a Nexus 7 tablet which Google invites itself to update remotely (shame on me for not installing Replicant, but this device does not support it yet). It is not a 3G tablet and it does not have two operation systems (unlike mobile phones) or even a carrier tracking its location all the time. It's a purely Android device with no network tying. It is network-agnostic. I only bought it because in order to replace my PDA (for over a decade) I wanted a device that is not a tracking device. Phones were out of the question.

Networks don't track the tablet. Google, however, is always out there, fully able to identify the connected user (latched onto a Gmail address because of Play), modifying the software without even the user's consent (the user is sometimes prompted to boot, without being able to opt out of the core update itself).

The update in itself is not a problem. What's problematic is its effect.

Following the latest Google update (which I was given no option to reject) I noticed that Google had added a remote kill switch as an opition. It was enabed by default. "Allow remote lock and erase" is what Google calls it and it is essentially working like a back door. Google and its partners in government are gaining a lot of power not over a smartphone but over a tablet.

The significance of this is that not only phones should be assumed to be remotely accessible for modification, including for example additional back doors. What's more, some devices that were sold without this functionality silently have it added. According to the corporate press, the FBI remotely turns Android devices into listening devices and it is getting simpler to see how.

NSA and PRISM destroy our computing. We definitely need to demand Free software, but we should go further by asking for audits, rejecting user-hostile 'features' like DRM, 'secure' boot, and kill switches. I gradually lose any remaining trust that I had in Google and even Free software such as Android.

More in Tux Machines

today's leftovers

Proposed: A Tainted Performance State For The Linux Kernel

Similar to the kernel states of having a tainted kernel for using binary blob kernel modules or unsigned modules, a new tainting method has been proposed for warning the user about potentially adverse kernel performance. Dave Hansen of Intel has proposed a new "TAINT_PERFORMANCE" for the kernel that would proactively print a warning message about not using the kernel for any performance measurements. Dave explained in his RFC announcement, "I have more than once myself been the victim of an accidentally-enabled kernel configuration option being mistaken for a true performance problem. I'm sure I've also taken profiles or performance measurements and assumed they were real-world when really I was measuring the performance with an option that nobody turns on in production. A warning like this late in boot will help remind folks when these kinds of things are enabled." Read more

Scientific Linux 7.0 x86_64 BETA 3

Fermilab's intention is to continue the development and support of Scientific Linux and refine its focus as an operating system for scientific computing. Today we are announcing a beta release of Scientific Linux 7. We continue to develop a stable process for generating and distributing Scientific Linux, with the intent that Scientific Linux remains the same high quality operating system the community has come to expect. Please do not install Pre-Release software in your production environment. Read more

Ubuntu 14.10 (Utopic Unicorn) Now Features Linux Kernel 3.16.1

"The Utopic kernel has been rebased to the first v3.16.1 upstream stable kernel and uploaded to the archive, ie. linux-3.16.0-9.14. Please test and let us know your results," says Canonical's Joseph Salisbury, after the latest Ubuntu Kernel Team meeting. Read more