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Encrypted messaging: ECHR says no to states that want to spy on them

ECHR landmark ruling in favor of encrypted messaging, featuring EviCypher NFC HSM technology by Freemindtronic.

Protecting encrypted messaging: the ECHR decision

Encrypted messaging is vital for digital privacy and free speech, but complex to protect. The historic ECHR decision of February 13, 2024 supports strong encryption against government surveillance. We discuss the importance of this decision. You will discover EviCypher NFC HSM encryption technology from Freemindtronic, guardian of this decision but for all messaging services in the world.

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Learn more through this Cyberculture section on your data encryption rights to protect your personal and professional data written by Jacques Gascuel, creator of data security solutions. Stay informed and secure with our regular news.

Encrypted messaging: ECHR says no to states that want to spy on them

The historic judgment of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) elevates encrypted messaging to the rank of guardian of privacy and freedom of expression. But this also poses security and public order problems. On February 13, 2024, she spoke out in favor of strong encryption, against state interference.

The ECHR has rejected Russian authorities’ request to Telegram, a messaging application, to provide private keys for encrypting its users’ communications, or to install backdoors that would allow authorities to access them. The Court considered that this request violated the rights to privacy and correspondence, as well as freedom of expression, of Telegram users.

The context of the case

The case background Six journalists and human rights activists challenged the request of the Russian authorities to Telegram before the ECHR. They claimed that this request violated their fundamental rights. They relied on Articles 8 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. These articles protect the right to privacy and correspondence, and the right to freedom of expression.

The reasoning of the Court

The Court’s reasoning The Court acknowledged that the request of the Russian authorities had a legitimate aim of national security and crime prevention. However, it found that the interference with the rights of the applicants was not proportionate to the aim pursued. It emphasised that encryption plays a vital role in ensuring the confidentiality of communications and the protection of personal data. It held that the request of the Russian authorities was too general and vague. It did not offer enough safeguards against abuse. It could deter people from using encrypted messaging services.

The Court also noted that encryption helps citizens and businesses to defend themselves against the misuse of information technologies, such as hacking, identity theft, data breach, fraud and undue disclosure of confidential information. It stated that this should be duly taken into account when assessing the measures that could weaken encryption.

The Court further observed that, in order to be useful to the authorities, the information must be decrypted at some point. It suggested that the authorities should use other means to obtain the necessary information, such as undercover operations, metadata analysis and international cooperation.

The consequences of the decision

The decision’s implications The decision of the Court is final and binding for Russia. It has to implement it within a reasonable time. It also has a broader impact. It sets out principles applicable to all member states of the Council of Europe, which comprises 47 countries. It sends a strong signal in favour of the respect of fundamental rights on the internet. It aligns with the position of several international organisations, such as the UN, the EU or the OSCE. They have stressed the importance of encryption for the protection of human rights online.

The official link of the ECHR decision is: AFFAIRE PODCHASOV c. RUSSIE and AFFAIRE PODCHASOV c. RUSSIE and AFFAIRE PODCHASOV c. RUSSIE. You can access it by clicking on the title or copying the address in your browser.

The position of other countries in the world

Encryption of communications is not a consensual topic. Countries have different, even opposite, positions on the issue. Here are some examples:

  • The Netherlands have argued for the right to strong encryption. They considered it a human right that must be safeguarded, in the country’s own interest.
  • The United States have repeatedly asked technology companies to provide them with access to encrypted data. They invoked the need to fight terrorism. These requests have been challenged by companies, such as Apple. They refused to create backdoors in their encryption systems.
  • China adopted a cybersecurity law in 2016. It requires companies to cooperate with authorities to provide encryption keys or means to bypass encryption. This law has been denounced by human rights defenders. They fear that it will be used to strengthen the surveillance and censorship of the Chinese regime.
  • The European Union adopted a directive on the protection of personal data in 2016. It recognizes encryption as a technical measure suitable for ensuring the security of data. The EU also supported the development of end-to-end encryption. It funded projects such as the free software Signal, which allows to encrypt calls and messages.

These examples show the divergences and convergences between different countries on the subject of encryption. They also reveal the political, economic and social issues that are at stake.

The world’s reactions to the ECHR decision on Encrypted Messaging

The ECHR decision on Encrypted Messaging has sparked different reactions in the world. Some countries praised the judgment, which boosts the protection of human rights on the internet. Other countries slammed the position of the Court, which undermines, according to them, the judicial cooperation and the national security.

The supporters of the ECHR decision

The Netherlands are among the countries that supported the ECHR decision. They argued for the right to strong encryption, considering it a human right that must be safeguarded, in the country’s own interest. The European Union also backed the Court, reminding that encryption is a technical measure suitable to ensure the security of data, in accordance with the directive on the protection of personal data adopted in 2016. The EU also stressed that it funds the development of end-to-end encryption, through projects such as the free software Signal, which allows to encrypt calls and messages.

The opponents of the ECHR decision

The United States are among the countries that opposed the ECHR decision. They have repeatedly asked technology companies to provide them with access to encrypted data, invoking the need to fight terrorism. These requests have been challenged by companies, such as Apple, which have refused to create backdoors in their encryption systems. China also expressed its disagreement with the Court, stating that encryption of communications fosters the dissemination of illegal or dangerous content, such as terrorist propaganda, child pornography or hate speech. China recalled that it has adopted in 2016 a cybersecurity law, which requires companies to cooperate with authorities to provide encryption keys or means to bypass encryption.

The non-signatories of the European

Convention on Human Rights Some countries have not reacted to the ECHR decision, because they are not signatories of the European Convention on Human Rights. This is the case for example of Russia, which ceased to be a member of the Council of Europe on March 16, 2022, after the invasion of Ukraine decided by the Kremlin. The country no longer participates in the activities of the ECHR. This is also the case of many countries in Africa, Asia or Latin America, which are not part of the Council of Europe and which have not ratified the Convention.

The signatory countries of the European Convention on Human Rights

The European Convention on Human Rights is an international treaty adopted by the Council of Europe in 1950, which aims to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms in the states parties. It entered into force in 1953, after being ratified by ten countries: Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom .

Since then, the Convention has been ratified by 36 other countries, bringing the total number of states parties to 46. They are: Albania, Germany, Andorra, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Croatia, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Czech Republic, Turkey and Ukraine.

All these countries recognize the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which is in charge of ensuring the respect of the Convention. The ECHR can be seized by any person, group of persons or non-governmental organization who claims to be a victim of a violation of the Convention by one of the states parties. The ECHR can also be seized by a state party who alleges that another state party has violated the Convention. The ECHR delivers judgments that are final and binding for the states parties.

An innovative and sovereign alternative: the EviCypher NFC HSM technology

Facing the challenges of encryption of communications, some users may look for an alternative more innovative and sovereign than the traditional messaging applications. This is the case of the EviCypher NFC HSM technology, developed by the Andorran company Freemindtronic. This technology makes it possible to generate, store, manage and use AES-256 encryption keys to encrypt all communication systems, such as WhatsApp, sms, mms, rcs, Telegram, webmail, email client, private messaging like Linkedin, Skype, X and even via postal mail with encrypted QR code messages, etc.

EviCypher NFC HSM: A Secure and Innovative Solution for Encrypted Messaging

Firstly, it guarantees the confidentiality and integrity of data, even if the messaging services are compromised for any reason, including by a court order. Indeed, it is physically impossible for Freemindtronic, the manufacturer of the DataShielder products, to provide encryption keys generated randomly by the user. These keys are stored encrypted in AES-256 via segmented keys in the HSM and NFC HSM. Only the user holds the decryption keys, which he can erase at any time.

Secondly, it preserves the anonymity and sovereignty of users, because it works without server and without database. It does not require internet connection, nor user account, nor phone number, nor email address. It leaves no trace of its use, nor of its user. It does not depend on the policies or regulations of the countries or companies that provide the communication services.

Thirdly, it offers an extreme portability and availability of encryption keys, thanks to the NFC technology. The user can carry his encryption keys on a physical support, such as a card, a bracelet, a key ring, etc. He can use them with any device compatible with NFC, such as a smartphone, a tablet, a computer, etc. He can also share them with other trusted users, in a simple and secure way.

Lastly, it is compatible with the EviCore NFC HSM or EviCore HSM technology, which allows to secure the access to equipment and applications. The user can thus use the same physical support to encrypt his communications and to authenticate on his different digital services.

The EviCypher NFC HSM technology guarantees the confidentiality and integrity of data, even if the messaging services are compromised for any reason, including by a court order. Indeed, it is physically impossible for Freemindtronic, the manufacturer of the DataShielder products, to provide encryption keys generated randomly by the user. These keys are stored encrypted in AES-256 via segmented keys in the HSM and NFC HSM. Only the user holds the decryption keys, which he can erase at any time.

Transforming Encrypted Messaging with EviCypher NFC HSM

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) decisively highlights encrypted messaging’s vital role in protecting privacy and freedom of speech. EviCypher NFC HSM, aligning perfectly with these principles, emerges as a pioneering solution. It confronts the challenges of state surveillance and privacy breaches head-on, providing unmatched defense for private communications. EviCypher NFC HSM goes beyond the ECHR’s conventional security and privacy requirements. It crafts an inviolable communication platform that honors users’ privacy rights profoundly. With its innovative approach, EviCypher NFC HSM introduces new data protection standards, forging a robust barrier against government intrusion.

Global Reach and User Empowerment

EviCypher NFC HSM’s technology has a broad global impact, seamlessly addressing the varied encryption landscapes worldwide. It provides a consistent answer to privacy and security issues, disregarding geographic limits. This global applicability makes EviCypher NFC HSM an indispensable tool for users worldwide, solidifying its position as a guardian of global privacy.

Despite potential skepticism about new technologies, the user-friendly and accessible nature of EviCypher NFC HSM aims to dispel such doubts. It promotes wider adoption among those seeking to enhance their communication security. Its compatibility with diverse devices and straightforward operation simplify encryption, facilitating an effortless shift towards secure communication practices.

EviCypher NFC HSM: A Beacon of User Autonomy

EviCypher NFC HSM technology deeply commits to empowering users. It allows individuals to generate, store, and manage their encryption keys independently, giving them direct control. This autonomy not only improves data security but also demonstrates a strong commitment to protecting users’ fundamental rights. It resonates with the values emphasized across the discussion, providing an effective way to strengthen online privacy and security. EviCypher NFC HSM marks a significant leap forward in the movement towards a more secure and private digital landscape.

This technologie HSM stands out as a state-of-the-art, self-sufficient solution, perfectly in line with the ECHR’s decisions and the worldwide need for secure encrypted communication. It leads the charge in advancing user autonomy and security, signaling a crucial evolution in encrypted messaging towards unparalleled integrity.

Incorporating EviCypher’s distinctive features—its operation without servers or databases, interoperability, and backward compatibility with all current communication systems, such as email, SMS, MMS, RCS, and social media messaging, even extending to physical mail via encrypted QR codes—highlights its adaptability and innovative spirit. EviCypher’s resistance to zero-day vulnerabilities, due to encrypting communications upfront, further underscores its exceptional security. Operating anonymously and offline, it provides instant usability without requiring user identification or account creation, ensuring seamless compatibility across phone, computer, and communication systems.

Summary at encrypted messaging

Encrypted Messaging is crucial for the digital society. It protects internet users’ privacy and freedom of expression. But it also challenges security and public order. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) supported strong encryption on February 13, 2024. It defended the right to encryption, against states that want to access it. Several international organizations agree with this position. They emphasize the importance of encryption for human rights online. However, the ECHR decision sparked diverse reactions worldwide. Different countries have different views on encryption.

Our conclusion on Encrypted Messaging

EviCypher NFC HSM technology is an innovative and sovereign alternative for Encrypted Messaging. Users can generate, store, manage and use AES-256 encryption keys. They can encrypt all communication systems, such as WhatsApp, sms, mms, rcs, Telegram, webmail, email client, etc. EviCypher NFC HSM technology ensures data confidentiality and integrity. It works even if messaging services are compromised. It preserves users’ anonymity and sovereignty. It does not need server or database. It offers extreme portability and availability of encryption keys, thanks to NFC technology. It is compatible with EviCore NFC HSM or EviCore HSM technology. They secure access to equipment and applications.

DataShielder products provide EviCypher NFC HSM technology. They are contactless encryption devices, guardians of keys and secrets. Freemindtronic, an Andorran company specialized in NFC security, designs and manufactures them.

Ivanti Zero-Day Flaws: Comprehensive Guide to Secure Your Systems Now

Digital representation of Ivanti Zero-Day Flaws threatening cybersecurity in a futuristic cityscape

Ivanti Patches Two Critical Zero-Day Vulnerabilities, One Under Active Attack

Ivanti, a leader in endpoint and network management solutions, has patched two critical zero-day vulnerabilities, one of which was actively exploited by cybercriminals. Learn more about these vulnerabilities and how to protect your organization.

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The Ivanti zero-day flaws, written by Jacques Gascuel, inventor of cybersecurity solutions, of cyber-safety of sensitive data and of counter-espionage, deal with the subject of the Ivanti Zero Day 2024 vulnerabilities.

What are Zero-Day Flaws and Why are They Dangerous?

A zero-day flaw is a previously unknown vulnerability in software that hackers can exploit before the vendor becomes aware and devises a patch. These vulnerabilities are particularly perilous because there is no existing defense against their exploitation. Cybercriminals can use zero-day flaws to launch sophisticated cyberattacks, leading to unauthorized data access, system damage, and widespread security breaches.

Ivanti’s Two Zero-Day Vulnerabilities: CVE-2024-21888 and CVE-2024-21893

Ivanti’s announcement highlights two specific vulnerabilities:

  • CVE-2024-21888: This is a critical privilege escalation vulnerability found in the web components of Ivanti Connect Secure and Policy Secure (versions 9.x, 22.x). It allows malicious users to gain administrator privileges, thereby obtaining the ability to alter system configurations, access restricted data, and potentially introduce further malicious code into the network infrastructure.
  • CVE-2024-21893: Identified as a server-side request forgery (SSRF) flaw within the SAML component of Ivanti Connect Secure, Policy Secure (versions 9.x, 22.x), and Ivanti Neurons for ZTA, this vulnerability enables attackers to bypass authentication mechanisms to access restricted resources. This flaw is particularly concerning due to its active exploitation, which suggests a targeted approach by cybercriminals to leverage this vulnerability for malicious purposes.

Ivanti has acknowledged the targeted exploitation of CVE-2024-21893 and expressed concerns over the potential for increased malicious activities following the public disclosure of these vulnerabilities.

How to Protect Your Organization from Ivanti’s Zero-Day Flaws

In response to the discovery of these vulnerabilities, Ivanti has taken swift action by releasing patches for the affected products, including specific versions of Connect Secure and ZTA. The company strongly advises a precautionary factory reset of devices before applying the patches to eliminate any lingering threats from the system. Additionally, Ivanti recommends importing a mitigation file named “mitigation.release.20240126.5.xml” as a temporary countermeasure against these vulnerabilities.

To safeguard against these vulnerabilities, organizations are urged to apply Ivanti’s patches immediately, conduct a factory reset of devices prior to patching, and adopt a proactive cybersecurity posture. This includes regular software updates, comprehensive user education on cybersecurity best practices, and the implementation of robust security measures such as firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and regular security audits.

The Impact of Ivanti’s Zero-Day Flaws on the Cybersecurity Landscape

Since the beginning of 2024, the cybersecurity community has witnessed the disclosure of six zero-day vulnerabilities within Ivanti’s product lineup, with half of them being actively exploited. A study conducted by Volexity found that more than 1,700 Ivanti devices have been compromised worldwide, including nearly 100 in France. These attacks have affected organizations from all sectors, including government agencies, Fortune 500 companies and cloud service providers .

CISA Issues Emergency Directive for Federal Agencies

The US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) issued an emergency directive. It requires all federal agencies to apply Ivanti’s patches and mitigations, and report any compromise to the CISA. This directive is important because it shows the urgency and the severity of the situation, and its implications for the national and international security.

Mandiant Identifies Bypass Technique and Webshell Deployment

Mandiant, a cybersecurity firm, has identified a technique that bypasses the mitigation file and allows the deployment of a custom webshell named BUSHWALK. This webshell works by injecting malicious code into the legitimate web pages of Ivanti devices, and allows the attackers to execute commands and access files on the compromised systems. Mandiant has provided a detailed description of how this webshell works, how to detect it, and how to remove it. Mandiant has also clarified that this technique is distinct from the mass exploitation that followed the disclosure of the vulnerabilities.

UNC5221: The Threat Group Behind the Targeted Exploitation

Mandiant has also attributed the exploitation of the Ivanti zero-day flaws to a threat group named UNC5221, suspected to be linked to China. This group has targeted organizations from various sectors, including government agencies, Fortune 500 companies and cloud service providers . Mandiant has also revealed the tools and the malware used by this group, such as BUSHWALK, BLOODHOUND, CHOPSTICK and SLIGHTPULSE. These tools and malware are designed to perform reconnaissance, lateral movement, credential theft and data exfiltration on the compromised networks.

The Number of Victims and the Potential Consequences

According to the latest reports from Volexity and Mandiant, more than 1,700 Ivanti devices have been compromised worldwide, including nearly 100 in France. The sectors most affected by these intrusions include government, finance, healthcare, education, and technology. The potential consequences of these intrusions include unauthorized data access, system encryption by ransomware, installation of backdoors for persistent access, and execution of malicious code. Such incidents can lead to significant financial losses, reputational damage, operational disruptions, and legal implications for the affected organizations.

EviCypher and EviPass: Innovative Technologies to Protect Yourself from the Zero-Day Flaws

Facing the threat of the Ivanti zero-day flaws, there are innovative solutions to protect yourself effectively. These are the EviCypher and EviPass technologies, developed by Freemindtronic, a company specialized in pocket cybersecurity.

EviCypher is a NFC device that allows you to encrypt and decrypt messages securely and anonymously. You just need to slide your EviCypher card behind your smartphone for the message to be encrypted or decrypted. The system uses individual encryption keys, stored offline, in a non-volatile and physically secure memory. Thus, even if the message is intercepted by an attacker who exploits an Ivanti zero-day flaw, he will not be able to read it without the corresponding key.

EviPass is a mobile application that allows you to manage your passwords and credentials securely and conveniently. You just need to scan your EviPass card with your smartphone to access your online accounts. The application uses an OpenPGP encryption algorithm, based on public and private keys. The private keys are stored offline, in a non-volatile and physically secure memory. Thus, even if an attacker manages to access a compromised Ivanti device, he will not be able to steal the passwords and credentials without the EviPass card.

These two solutions offer a high level of security, based on the principle of “Air Gap”, which consists of creating a physical and digital barrier between the data and the attackers. They are also easy to use, without requiring any specific knowledge in cybersecurity. They are compatible with all digital communication systems, including those that use Ivanti products. They are protected by international patents, and manufactured in Andorra by Freemindtronic.

EviPass NFC NFC and EviPass HSM PGP: Freemindtronic’s Technologies for Password Management

EviPass NFC NFC and EviPass HSM PGP are two technologies developed by Freemindtronic for password management. EviPass NFC NFC is a technology that uses NFC cards to store and access passwords and credentials. EviPass HSM PGP is a technology that uses hardware security modules (HSM) to store and access passwords and credentials using the OpenPGP encryption algorithm. Both technologies are integrated into the EviPass mobile application, which allows users to manage their passwords and credentials securely and conveniently.

EviCypher NFC HSM and EviCypher HSM PGP: Freemindtronic’s Technologies for Message Encryption

EviCypher NFC HSM and EviCypher HSM PGP are two technologies developed by Freemindtronic for message encryption. EviCypher NFC HSM is a technology that uses NFC cards and hardware security modules (HSM) to encrypt and decrypt messages. EviCypher HSM PGP is a technology that uses hardware security modules (HSM) to encrypt and decrypt messages using the OpenPGP encryption algorithm. Both technologies are integrated into the EviCypher NFC device, which allows users to encrypt and decrypt messages securely and anonymously.

PassCypher and DataShielder: Freemindtronic’s Products that Incorporate EviCypher and EviPass Technologies

PassCypher and DataShielder are two products designed and manufactured by Freemindtronic that incorporate the EviCypher and EviPass technologies. PassCypher is a NFC device that connects to your smartphone or computer and allows you to access your online accounts using the EviPass technology. DataShielder is a NFC device that connects to your smartphone or computer and allows you to encrypt and decrypt messages using the EviCypher technology. With these products, you can benefit from the EviCypher and EviPass technology to protect your passwords, credentials and messages.

To learn more about these solutions, you can visit the Freemindtronic website or the Codeur blog, which present the features and benefits of EviCypher and EviPass.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the Ivanti zero-day flaws are dangerous vulnerabilities that can compromise the security and confidentiality of the users’ data. It is therefore important to protect yourself effectively against these flaws, by applying the patches provided by Ivanti, following the cybersecurity recommendations, and using innovative solutions like EviCypher and EviPass, developed by Freemindtronic. These solutions are integrated into innovative products, designed and manufactured in Andorra. Don’t wait any longer to protect yourself from the Ivanti zero-day flaws, and discover the EviCypher and EviPass solutions from Freemindtronic. What are your impressions on these products? Let us know in the comments below.

5Ghoul: 5G NR Attacks on Mobile Devices

5Ghoul: 5G NR Attacks on Mobile Devices
5Ghoul Attacks on Mobile Devices written by Jacques Gascuel, inventor of sensitive data safety and security systems, for Freemindtronic. This article may be updated on this subject.

5Ghoul: A Threat to 5G Security

5G has benefits, but also risks. 5Ghoul is a set of 5G NR flaws that affect Qualcomm and MediaTek modems, used by most 5G devices. 5Ghoul can disrupt or make unusable smartphones, routers and modems 5G. In this article, we will see what 5Ghoul is, how it compares to other 5G attacks, and how to protect yourself with contactless encryption, which uses NFC.

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5Ghoul: How Contactless Encryption Can Secure Your 5G Communications from Modem Attacks

5Ghoul is a set of 5G NR vulnerabilities that affect Qualcomm and MediaTek modems. These flaws allow to launch denial-of-service attacks or degrade the quality of the 5G network.

What is 5Ghoul?

5Ghoul is a set of 14 5G NR (New Radio) vulnerabilities, the protocol that governs the communication between 5G devices and base stations (gNB). Among these vulnerabilities, 10 are public and 4 are still confidential. They were discovered by researchers from the Singapore University of Technology and DesignSingapore University of Technology and Design.

The 5Ghoul vulnerabilities exploit implementation errors in Qualcomm and MediaTek modems, which do not comply with the specifications of the 5G NR protocol. They allow an attacker to create a fake base station, which pretends to be a legitimate one, and send malicious messages to 5G devices that connect to it. These messages can cause errors, crashes or infinite loops in the modems, resulting in denial-of-service attacks or degradations of the quality of the 5G network.

Which devices are affected by 5Ghoul?

The researchers tested the 5Ghoul vulnerabilities on 714 models of 5G smartphones from 24 different brands, including Lenovo, Google, TCL, Microsoft, etc. They also tested routers and modems 5G from various manufacturers. They found that the 5Ghoul vulnerabilities affect all 5G devices equipped with Qualcomm and MediaTek modems, which account for more than 90% of the market.

What are the impacts of 5Ghoul?

The impacts of 5Ghoul depend on the vulnerability exploited and the type of device targeted. The researchers classified the 5Ghoul vulnerabilities into three categories, according to their severity:

Level 1 vulnerabilities

Level 1 vulnerabilities are the most severe. They allow to render 5G devices completely unusable, by locking them in a state where they can neither connect nor disconnect from the 5G network. These vulnerabilities require a manual reboot of the devices to be resolved. Among the level 1 vulnerabilities, there is for example the CVE-2023-33043, which causes a crash of the Qualcomm X55/X60 modem by sending an invalid MAC/RLC message.

Level 2 vulnerabilities

Level 2 vulnerabilities are less critical, but still harmful. They allow to degrade the quality of the 5G network, by reducing the throughput, latency or stability of the connection. These vulnerabilities can be resolved by reconnecting to the 5G network. Among the level 2 vulnerabilities, there is for example the CVE-2023-33044, which causes packet loss on the MediaTek T750 modem by sending an invalid RRC message.

Level 3 vulnerabilities

Level 3 vulnerabilities are the least dangerous. They allow to disrupt the normal functioning of 5G devices, by displaying error messages, modifying settings or triggering alerts. These vulnerabilities have no impact on the quality of the 5G network. Among the level 3 vulnerabilities, there is for example the CVE-2023-33045, which causes an error message on the Qualcomm X55/X60 modem by sending an invalid RRC message.

How to protect yourself from 5Ghoul?

The researchers informed the manufacturers of Qualcomm and MediaTek modems of the 5Ghoul vulnerabilities, as well as the 5G network operators and the 5G device manufacturers. They also published a demonstration kit of the 5Ghoul vulnerabilities on GitHub, to raise awareness among the public and the scientific community of the risks of 5G NR.

To protect yourself from 5Ghoul, 5G device users must update their modems with the latest security patches, as soon as they are available. They must also avoid connecting to unreliable or unknown 5G networks, which could be fake base stations. In case of doubt, they can disable 5G and use 4G or Wi-Fi.

How 5Ghoul compares to other 5G attacks?

5Ghoul is not the first security flaw that affects 5G. Other 5G attacks have been discovered in the past, exploiting weaknesses in the protocol or in the equipment. Here are some examples of 5G attacks and their differences with 5Ghoul:

ReVoLTE

ReVoLTE is an attack that allows to listen to voice calls 4G and 5G by exploiting a vulnerability in the encryption of data. This vulnerability is due to the fact that some base stations reuse the same encryption key for multiple communication sessions, which allows an attacker to decrypt the content of the calls by capturing the radio signals.

It is different from 5Ghoul because it does not target the 5G modem, but the encryption of data. ReVoLTE also requires that the attacker be close to the victim and have specialized equipment to intercept the radio signals. ReVoLTE does not cause denial of service or degradation of the network, but it compromises the confidentiality of communications.

ToRPEDO

ToRPEDO is an attack that allows to locate, track or harass mobile phone users 4G and 5G by exploiting a vulnerability in the paging protocol. This protocol is used to notify mobile devices of incoming calls or messages. By sending repeated messages to a phone number, an attacker can trigger paging messages on the network, and thus determine the position or identity of the target device.

It is different from 5Ghoul because it does not target the 5G modem, but the paging protocol. ToRPEDO also requires that the attacker knows the phone number of the victim and has access to the mobile network. ToRPEDO does not cause denial of service or degradation of the network, but it compromises the privacy of users.

IMP4GT

IMP4GT is an attack that allows to degrade the quality of the 5G network by exploiting a vulnerability in the security protocol. This protocol is used to authenticate and encrypt the communications between 5G devices and base stations. By modifying the messages exchanged between the two parties, an attacker can mislead the network and the device on the level of security required, and thus reduce the throughput or latency of the connection.

It is different from 5Ghoul because it does not target the 5G modem, but the security protocol. IMP4GT also requires that the attacker be close to the base station and have equipment capable of modifying the messages. IMP4GT does not cause denial of service or crash of the modem, but it degrades the quality of the network.

SS7

SS7 is a set of signaling protocols used by mobile operators to establish and manage calls and messages between different networks. SS7 has existed since the 1970s and has not evolved much since, making it vulnerable to hacking attacks. By exploiting the flaws of SS7, an attacker can intercept SMS and voice calls, locate and track users, bypass two-factor authentication, or subscribe subscribers to paid services without their consent.

It is different from 5Ghoul because it does not target the 5G modem, but the signaling protocol. SS7 affects all types of mobile networks, including 5G, because it still uses SS7 for some functions, such as mobility management or compatibility with 2G and 3G networks. SS7 requires that the attacker has access to the signaling network, which is not easy to obtain, but not impossible. SS7 does not cause denial of service or crash of the modem, but it compromises the confidentiality and integrity of communications.

How and why to encrypt SMS, MMS and RCS without contact?

Contactless encryption is a method of protecting mobile communications that uses NFC (Near Field Communication) technology to establish a secure connection between two devices. NFC is a wireless communication protocol that allows to exchange data by bringing two compatible devices within a few centimeters of each other.

Contactless encryption relies on the use of an external device called NFC HSM (Hardware Security Module), which is a hardware security module that stores and manages encryption keys. The NFC HSM comes in the form of a card, a keychain or a bracelet, that the user must bring close to his phone to activate the encryption. The NFC HSM communicates with the phone via NFC and transmits the encryption key needed to secure the messages.

The technologies EviCore NFC HSM and EviCypher NFC HSM are examples of contactless encryption solutions developed by the Andorran company Freemindtronic. EviCore NFC HSM is a hardware security module that allows to encrypt SMS, MMS and RCS (Rich Communication Services) end-to-end, meaning that only the recipients can read the messages. EviCypher NFC HSM is a hardware security module that allows to encrypt multimedia files (photos, videos, audio, etc.) and share them via SMS, MMS or RCS.

Contactless encryption has several advantages over conventional encryption of mobile communications:

It offers a higher level of security, because the encryption key is not stored on the phone, but on the NFC HSM, which is more difficult to hack or steal.

It is compatible with all types of mobile networks, including 5G, because it does not depend on the communication protocol used, but on NFC.

It is easy to use, because it is enough to bring the NFC HSM close to the phone to activate the encryption, without having to install a specific application or create an account.

It is transparent, because it does not change the appearance or functioning of the messages, which remain accessible from the native application of the phone.

Statistics on 5Ghoul

How widespread are 5Ghouls? What are the trends and impacts of these flaws? Some statistics on 5Ghoul, based on sources and data that are a priori reliable.

5Ghoul: a threat to 5G devices

5Ghoul is a set of 5G NR vulnerabilities that affect Qualcomm and MediaTek modems, which are used by most 5G devices on the market. According to the researchers who discovered 5Ghoul, these vulnerabilities can cause denial-of-service attacks or network degradations.

  • How many 5G devices are affected by 5Ghoul? According to a report by Counterpoint Research, Qualcomm and MediaTek accounted for 79% of the global smartphone chipset market in Q3 2020. Qualcomm had a 39% share, while MediaTek had a 40% share. Assuming that all Qualcomm and MediaTek chipsets are vulnerable to 5Ghoul, this means that nearly 8 out of 10 smartphones are potentially at risk.
  • How many 5G NR vulnerabilities are known? According to the CVE (Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures) database. There are 16 CVE entries related to 5G NR as of April 2021. Four of them are ZeroDay vulnerabilities that have not been publicly disclosed nor fixed by the manufacturers. These vulnerabilities are classified as level 1 or 2, meaning that they can cause denial-of-service attacks or network degradations.
  • How many 5G attacks have been reported? According to the SANS Internet Storm Center, there have been no reports of 5Ghoul attacks in the wild as of April 2021. However, this does not mean that 5Ghoul is not exploited by malicious actors. The researchers who discovered 5Ghoul have developed a proof-of-concept tool called 5Ghoul-Scanner, which can detect and exploit 5Ghoul vulnerabilities. They have also released a video demonstration of 5Ghoul attacks.

Conclusion

5Ghoul is a security flaw that affects 5G modems from Qualcomm and MediaTek, which are used by most 5G devices on the market. 5Ghoul allows an attacker to disrupt the functioning of smartphones, routers and modems 5G, or even make them unusable. 5Ghoul stands out from other 5G attacks known, such as ReVoLTE, ToRPEDO, IMP4GT or SS7, by the fact that it targets the 5G modem, that it does not require secret information or specialized equipment, and that it causes denial-of-service attacks or degradations of the network. To protect yourself from 5Ghoul, 5G device users must update their modems with the latest security patches, and avoid connecting to unreliable or unknown 5G networks.

Remote activation of phones by the police: an analysis of its technical, legal and social aspects

Remote activation of phones by the police

Remote activation of phones by the police by Jacques Gascuel This article will be updated with any new information on the topic, and readers are encouraged to leave comments or contact the author with any suggestions or additions.

How does remote activation of phones by the police work?

An article of the bill on justice 2023-2027 raises controversy. It allows remote activation of mobile phones and capture of images or sound without the owner’s consent, for cases of organized crime or terrorism. How does this intelligence technique work? What are the conditions to use it? What are its advantages and disadvantages? What is the situation in other countries? We explain everything in this article.

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What is the new bill on justice and why is it raising concerns about privacy?

The bill on justice is a legislative project. It aims to modernize and simplify justice in France. It covers civil, criminal, administrative and digital justice. It also strengthens the investigation and prosecution of serious offenses, such as terrorism and organized crime.

One measure authorizes remote activation of phones by the police for some investigations. Article 3 “An unfailing commitment to better prevent radicalization and fight against terrorism” of the bill includes this measure. It modifies article 706-102-1 of the code of criminal procedure. This article defines how to activate remotely any electronic device that can emit, transmit, receive or store data.

This measure raises privacy concerns because it lets the police access personal or professional data in phones without the owners’ or possessors’ consent or knowledge. It also lets the police locate, record or capture sounds and images from phones without notification or justification. This measure may violate fundamental rights and freedoms, such as privacy, confidentiality, dignity, presumption of innocence and right to a fair trial.

What is remote activation of phones and how does it work?

Remote activation of phones by the police is an intelligence technique that allows law enforcement agencies to access data or record sounds and images from phones without the consent or knowledge of the phone users. This technique can be used for criminal investigations or national security purposes.

To remotely activate phones, law enforcement agencies need three factors: compatibility, connectivity, and security of the phones. They need to be compatible with the software or hardware that enables remote activation. They need to be connected to a network or a device that allows remote access. They need to have security flaws or vulnerabilities that can be exploited or bypassed.

Law enforcement agencies can remotely activate phones by three methods: exploiting vulnerabilities, installing malware, or using spyware on phones. Exploiting vulnerabilities means taking advantage of security flaws or weaknesses in the phone’s operating system, applications, or protocols. Installing malware means putting malicious software on the phone that can perform unauthorized actions or functions. Using spyware means employing software or hardware that can monitor or control the phone’s activity or data.

By remotely activating phones, law enforcement agencies can access data such as contacts, messages, photos, videos, location, browsing history, or passwords. They can also record sounds and images such as conversations, ambient noises, or camera shots. They can do this in real time or later by retrieving the data from the phone’s memory or storage.

What is the French bill on remote activation of phones by the police and what are its implications?

The French bill on remote activation of phones by the police is a legislative text that was promulgated on 25 May 2021. It is part of the justice orientation and programming bill for 2023-2027, which aims to modernize the justice system and reinforce its efficiency and independence.

The bill introduces a new article in the code of criminal procedure, which allows the judge of liberties and detention (at the request of the prosecutor) or the examining magistrate to order the remote activation of an electronic device without the knowledge or consent of its owner or possessor for the sole purpose of locating it in real time. This measure can be applied for crimes or misdemeanors punishable by at least five years’ imprisonment, a fairly broad criterion.

The bill also allows the judge of liberties and detention (at the request of the prosecutor) or the examining magistrate to order the remote activation of an electronic device without the knowledge or consent of its owner or possessor for the purpose of recording sounds and images from it. This measure can be applied only for crimes relating to organized crime and terrorism.

These measures cannot concern parliamentarians, journalists, lawyers, magistrates and doctors, nor the defendants when they are in the judge’s office or with their lawyer.

The bill also specifies that the remote activation of an electronic device must be done in a way that does not alter its functioning or data, and that the data collected must be destroyed within six months after their use.

The bill aims to provide law enforcement agencies with more tools and information to prevent, investigate and prosecute crimes, especially in cases where phones are encrypted, hidden or destroyed. It also aims to harmonize the French legislation with other countries that have used or considered this technique, such as the United States, Germany, Italy, Israel, Canada, China, France, and the United Kingdom.

However, the bill also raises ethical and social challenges, as it involves a trade-off between security and privacy, as well as between effectiveness and legitimacy. It may undermine the right to respect for private life and the right to a fair trial, which are guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights and the French Constitution. It may also expose law enforcement agencies to legal or technical challenges or dangers, such as encryption technologies that can prevent or hinder remote activation. It may also create distrust or resistance among phone users or providers, who may use encryption technologies or legal remedies to protect their data or communications.

The bill has been criticized by several actors, such as lawyers, human rights defenders, digital rights activists, journalists and academics. They have denounced its lack of proportionality, necessity and oversight. They have also questioned its effectiveness and legitimacy. They have called for its withdrawal or amendment.

The bill is still subject to constitutional review by the Constitutional Council before its final promulgation.

How did the Senate vote on the bill and where to find the official sources?

The Senate adopted this measure on October 20, 2021, with some amendments. The Senate voted in favor of this measure by 214 votes against 121. The Senate also added some safeguards to this measure, such as limiting its duration to four months renewable once and requiring prior authorization from an independent judge.

The National Assembly still has to examine the bill before adopting it definitively. The National Assembly may approve, reject or modify this measure. The final text may differ from the one that the Senate voted.

The examination of the bill by the National Assembly will start on December 6, 2021. You can follow the progress of the bill on the website of the National Assembly. You can also find the official text of the bill and the report of the Senate on their respective websites. You can also consult the website of the Ministry of Justice for more information on the bill and its objectives.

What are the benefits and risks of remote activation of phones?

This technique can affect citizens’ and suspects’ behavior in different ways.

On one hand, it can deter people from serious offenses. It exposes them to a higher risk of detection and identification. It reduces their incentives for criminal activities.

On the other hand, it can also make people more cautious or paranoid. It increases their uncertainty and fear. It leads them to avoid electronic devices, encrypt their communications, or use countermeasures such as jamming devices.

This technique can also impact public safety and security positively and negatively.

On one hand, it can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of law enforcement agencies. It provides them with more information and evidence. It helps them prevent, investigate and prosecute crimes.

On the other hand, it can also pose risks for human rights and civil liberties. It allows intrusive and covert surveillance. It violates privacy, confidentiality and dignity. It can also be subject to abuse, misuse or error by law enforcement agents or hackers.

Finally, it can create a feeling of insecurity and mistrust towards institutions, which can access personal or professional data in phones. It can also harm respect for presumption of innocence by placing permanent suspicion on people targeted by this technique. It can also infringe on protection of journalistic sources or right to information by discouraging whistleblowers or witnesses from speaking freely. It can finally encourage people concerned to adopt avoidance or circumvention strategies, such as changing phones regularly, using encrypted applications or switching to airplane mode.

These strategies can reduce the actual effectiveness of this technique for preventing terrorism and organized crime.

What are the arguments in favor of remote activation of phones?

Some people support this technique because they think it has several advantages for law enforcement and public security.

How can remote activation of phones violate privacy and data protection?

One of the main arguments against this technique is that it can violate privacy and data protection for individuals and groups. Privacy and data protection are fundamental rights recognized by international standards and laws. They ensure human dignity and autonomy.

Remote activation of phones violates privacy and data protection by letting law enforcement agencies access personal or professional data without the owners’ or possessors’ consent or knowledge. It also lets law enforcement agencies access sensitive or confidential data without notification or justification. It also lets law enforcement agencies access excessive or irrelevant data without limitation or proportionality.

For example, remote activation of phones could let the police access medical records, financial transactions, political opinions, religious beliefs, sexual preferences, or other intimate information on a device or a communication. It could also let the police access information that is not related to the investigation or that is out of scope on a device or a communication. It could also let the police access information that is not necessary or appropriate for the investigation or that is disproportionate to the seriousness of the offense on a device or a communication.

How can remote activation of phones improve access to justice and evidence?

Another argument in favor of this technique is that it can improve access to justice and evidence for law enforcement agencies and victims of crimes. Justice and evidence ensure the rule of law and the protection of rights.

Remote activation of phones improves access to justice and evidence by letting law enforcement agencies obtain information that is otherwise inaccessible or difficult to obtain. It also lets law enforcement agencies obtain information that is more reliable and accurate than other sources. It also lets law enforcement agencies obtain information that is timelier and more relevant than other sources.

For example, remote activation of phones could help the police access data that is encrypted or password-protected on a device or a communication. It could also help the police access data that is authentic and verifiable on a device or a communication. It could also help the police access data that is up-to-date and pertinent on a device or a communication.

What are the arguments against remote activation of phones?

Some people oppose this technique because they think it has several disadvantages for human rights and civil liberties.

How can remote activation of phones violate privacy and data protection?

One of the main arguments against this technique is that it can violate privacy and data protection for individuals and groups. Privacy and data protection are fundamental rights recognized by international standards and laws. They ensure human dignity and autonomy.

Remote activation of phones violates privacy and data protection by letting law enforcement agencies access personal or professional data without the owners’ or possessors’ consent or knowledge. It also lets law enforcement agencies access sensitive or confidential data without notification or justification. It also lets law enforcement agencies access excessive or irrelevant data without limitation or proportionality.

For example, remote activation of phones could let the police access medical records, financial transactions, political opinions, religious beliefs, sexual preferences, or other intimate information on a device or a communication. It could also let the police access information that is not related to the investigation or that is out of scope on a device or a communication. It could also let the police access information that is not necessary or appropriate for the investigation or that is disproportionate to the seriousness of the offense on a device or a communication.

How can remote activation of phones undermine the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial?

Another argument against this technique is that it can undermine the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial for individuals and groups. The presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial are fundamental rights recognized by international standards and laws. They ensure justice and accountability.

Remote activation of phones undermines the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial by letting law enforcement agencies access data that they can use against individuals or groups without any legal basis or due process. It also lets law enforcement agencies access data that they can manipulate or falsify by law enforcement agents or hackers. It also lets law enforcement agencies access data that individuals or groups can challenge or contest.

For example, remote activation of phones could let the police access data that they can incriminate individuals or groups without any warrant or authorization from a judge. It could also let the police access data that they can alter or corrupt by law enforcement agents or hackers. It could also let the police access data that individuals or groups can dispute or refute.

How can remote activation of phones create a risk of abuse and misuse by the authorities?

Another argument against this technique is that it can create a risk of abuse and misuse by the authorities for individuals and groups. Abuse and misuse are illegal or unethical actions that violate rights and obligations. They damage trust and legitimacy.

Remote activation of phones creates a risk of abuse and misuse by the authorities by letting law enforcement agencies access data that they can use for purposes other than those authorized or intended. It also lets law enforcement agencies access data that they can share or disclose to third parties without any oversight or control. It also lets law enforcement agencies access data that they can retain or store for longer than necessary or permitted.

For example, remote activation of phones could let the police access data that they can use for political, personal, commercial, or other interests on a device or a communication. It could also let the police access data that they can transfer or leak to other agencies, organizations, media, or individuals on a device or a communication. It could also let the police access data that they can keep or archive for indefinite periods on a device or a communication.

What are the alternatives and safeguards for remote activation of phones?

Some people suggest that there are alternatives and safeguards for remote activation of phones that can balance security and privacy.

What are the existing legal tools to access phone data with judicial authorization?

One of the alternatives for remote activation of phones is to use existing legal tools to access phone data with judicial authorization. Judicial authorization is a legal requirement that ensures respect for rights and obligations. An independent and impartial judge grants it after evaluating the necessity and proportionality of the request.

Existing legal tools to access phone data with judicial authorization include search warrants, wiretaps, geolocation orders, data requisitions, and international cooperation agreements. These tools let law enforcement agencies obtain information from phones in a lawful and transparent manner. They also provide legal protection and recourse for individuals and groups.

For example, search warrants let law enforcement agencies physically seize phones and extract data from them with judicial authorization. Wiretaps let law enforcement agencies intercept calls and messages from phones with judicial authorization. Geolocation orders let law enforcement agencies track the location of phones with judicial authorization. Data requisitions let law enforcement agencies request data from phone operators or service providers with judicial authorization. International cooperation agreements let law enforcement agencies exchange data with foreign authorities with judicial authorization.

What are the principles and conditions for remote activation of phones according to the bill?

One of the safeguards for remote activation of phones is to follow the principles and conditions for remote activation of phones according to the bill. The bill on justice sets some rules and limits for this technique to prevent abuse and misuse.

The principles and conditions for remote activation of phones according to the bill include:

  • The technique can only be used for terrorism and organized crime investigations.
  • An independent judge who authorizes it must supervise the technique. The technique can only last for four months renewable once.
  • The technique must respect necessity, proportionality, subsidiarity, and legality.
  • Parliament and independent authorities must oversee and control the technique.
  • Experts and stakeholders must evaluate and review the technique.

These principles and conditions aim to ensure a reasonable and accountable use of this technique. They also aim to protect the rights and interests of individuals and groups.

What are the possible ways to limit or challenge remote activation of phones?

Another safeguard for remote activation of phones is to use possible ways to limit or challenge remote activation of phones by individuals or groups. These ways can help protect rights and interests, as well as ensure accountability and transparency.

Some of the possible ways to limit or challenge remote activation of phones are:

  • Using encryption technologies:

    Encryption technologies can make data on phones unreadable or inaccessible to law enforcement agencies, even if they remotely activate them. Encryption technologies can also protect communications from law enforcement agencies’ interception or recording. For example, using end-to-end encryption apps, such as Signal or WhatsApp, can prevent law enforcement agencies from accessing messages or calls on phones.

  • Using security features:

    Security features can prevent law enforcement agencies from installing or activating software or applications on phones that enable remote activation. Security features can also detect or remove software or applications that enable remote activation. For example, using antivirus software, firewalls, passwords, biometrics, or VPNs can prevent law enforcement agencies from accessing phones.

  • Using legal remedies:

    Legal remedies can let individuals or groups contest or oppose remote activation of phones by law enforcement agencies. Legal remedies can also let individuals or groups seek compensation or redress for damages caused by remote activation of phones. For example, using judicial review, administrative appeals, complaints, lawsuits, or human rights mechanisms can challenge law enforcement agencies’ actions or decisions regarding remote activation of phones.

How does this technique compare with other countries?

Law enforcement agencies in other countries, such as the United States, Germany, Italy, Israel, Canada, China, France, and the United Kingdom, have used or considered remote activation of phones by the police. This technique is not new or unique. However, the legal framework, the technical methods, and the ethical and social implications of this technique vary from country to country..

How does remote activation of phones by the police work in different countries?

Remote activation of phones by the police is an intelligence technique that varies from country to country. It depends on the legal framework, the technical methods and the ethical issues of each country. Here are some examples of how it works in different countries.

  • In the United States, this technique is known as “roving bugs” or “mobile device tracking”. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) authorizes it for national security purposes and Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act for criminal investigations. It requires a court order based on probable cause and limited in scope and duration. It can locate or record sounds and images from phones. It can be done by installing malware or exploiting vulnerabilities on phones.
  • In Germany, this technique is known as “Quellen-TKÜ” or “source telecommunications surveillance”. The Code of Criminal Procedure and the Telecommunications Act regulate it for criminal investigations and the Federal Intelligence Service Act for national security purposes. It requires a court order based on reasonable suspicion and proportionality. It can intercept communications from phones. To do so, it installs software or uses spyware on phones.
  • In Italy, this technique is known as “Trojan horse” or “spyware”. The Code of Criminal Procedure and the Data Protection Code regulate it for criminal investigations. It requires a court order based on serious indications of guilt and necessity. It can access data or record sounds and images from phones. To do so, it installs software or uses spyware on phones.
  • In Israel, this technique is known as “IMSI catchers” or “stingrays”. The Wiretapping Law and the Privacy Protection Law regulate it for criminal investigations and the Security Service Law for national security purposes. It requires a court order based on reasonable grounds and proportionality. It can locate or intercept communications from phones. To do so, it uses devices that mimic cell towers and trick phones into connecting to them.
  • In Canada, this technique is known as “cell site simulators” or “IMSI catchers”. The Criminal Code and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms regulate it for criminal investigations. It requires a court order based on reasonable grounds and proportionality. It can locate or intercept communications from phones. To do so, it uses devices that mimic cell towers and trick phones into connecting to them.
  • In China, this technique is known as “network interception” or “remote control”. The Criminal Procedure Law and the Cybersecurity Law regulate it for criminal investigations and national security purposes. It does not require a court order but only an approval from a higher authority. It can access data or record sounds and images from phones. To do so, it installs software or uses spyware on phones.
  • In France, real-time geolocation is regulated by the Criminal Procedure Code and the Intelligence Law for criminal and national security investigations. Article 706-102-1 of the Criminal Procedure Code allows police officers and agents to use a technical device to access, record, store and transmit computer data without the consent of the persons concerned. This requires a court order based on serious reasons and proportionality. Article 230-32 of the Criminal Procedure Code states that “Any technical means for real-time location, throughout the national territory, of a person, without his consent, a vehicle or any other object, without the consent of its owner or possessor, may be used if this operation is required by necessity: “. This also requires a court order based on serious reasons and proportionality.
  • In the United Kingdom, this technique is known as “equipment interference” or “hacking”. The Investigatory Powers Act regulates it for criminal investigations and national security purposes. It requires a warrant based on necessity and proportionality. It can access data or record sounds and images from phones. To do so, it installs software or uses spyware on phones.

How does remote activation of phones by the police raise ethical and social challenges?

Remote activation of phones by the police raises ethical and social challenges in different contexts and situations because it involves a trade-off between security and privacy, as well as between effectiveness and legitimacy.

Security versus privacy

On one hand, remote activation of phones by the police can enhance security by providing law enforcement agencies with more information and evidence to prevent, investigate, and prosecute crimes. It can also deter criminals from using phones to plan or commit crimes.

On the other hand, remote activation of phones by the police can undermine privacy by letting law enforcement agencies access personal or professional data without consent or knowledge. It can also violate human rights and civil liberties by letting law enforcement agencies monitor or record sounds and images without notification or justification.

Effectiveness versus legitimacy

On one hand, remote activation of phones by the police can be effective by increasing the chances of finding relevant information or evidence on phones that may be encrypted, hidden, or destroyed. It can also be efficient by reducing the costs and risks of physical surveillance or interception.

On the other hand, remote activation of phones by the police can be illegitimate by violating the legal framework, the technical methods, or the oversight and control mechanisms that regulate this technique in each country. It can also be counterproductive by creating distrust or resistance among phone users or providers, who may use encryption technologies or legal remedies to protect their data or communications.

The ethical and social challenges of remote activation of phones by the police depend on the legal framework, the technical methods, and the oversight and control mechanisms that regulate this technique in each country. They also depend on the cultural and political values, the public opinion, and the media coverage that shape the perception and acceptance of this technique in each country.

Some of the ethical and social challenges of remote activation of phones by the police are how to :

  • balance security and privacy in the use of this technique?
  • ensure compliance with fundamental rights and freedoms in the use of this technique?
  • prevent abuse, misuse, or error in the use of this technique?
  • provide legal protection and recourse for individuals or groups affected by this technique?
  • ensure accountability and transparency in the use of this technique?
  • evaluate the effectiveness and legitimacy of this technique?
  • foster trust and cooperation between law enforcement agencies and phone users in the use of this technique?

What is the impact of encryption technologies on this technique?

Encryption technologies are methods or systems that make data unreadable or inaccessible to unauthorized parties. Encryption technologies can have a significant impact on remote activation of phones by the police, as they can make this technique more difficult, risky, or controversial.

How can encryption technologies make remote activation of phones by the police more difficult or impossible?

Encryption technologies can make remote activation of phones by the police more difficult or impossible by preventing law enforcement agencies from accessing data or communications on phones, even if they remotely activate them. Encryption technologies can also protect phones from malware or spyware that enable remote activation.

For example, end-to-end encryption, which some apps such as Signal or WhatsApp use, can prevent law enforcement agencies from intercepting or reading messages or calls on phones, as only the sender and the receiver have the keys to decrypt them. Device encryption, which some operating systems such as iOS or Android use, can prevent law enforcement agencies from extracting or viewing data on phones, as they require a password or a biometric authentication to unlock them.

How can encryption technologies make remote activation of phones by the police more risky or harmful?

Encryption technologies can make remote activation of phones by the police more risky or harmful by exposing law enforcement agencies to legal or technical challenges or dangers. Encryption technologies can also harm phone users by compromising their security or privacy.

For example, breaking encryption, which law enforcement agencies sometimes do to access data or communications on phones, can expose them to legal challenges, as it may violate laws or regulations that protect encryption or privacy. It can also expose them to technical dangers, as it may weaken the security of phones or networks and create vulnerabilities for hackers or criminals. Hacking encryption, which law enforcement agencies sometimes do to install malware or spyware on phones, can harm phone users by compromising their security or privacy, as it may allow unauthorized access to their data or functions.

How can encryption technologies make remote activation of phones by the police more controversial or unacceptable?

Encryption technologies can make remote activation of phones by the police more controversial or unacceptable by raising ethical and social issues or debates. Encryption technologies can also create conflicts or tensions between law enforcement agencies and phone users or providers.

For example, undermining encryption, which law enforcement agencies sometimes request to facilitate remote activation of phones, can raise ethical and social issues or debates, as it may affect human rights and civil liberties, such as privacy, confidentiality, dignity, presumption of innocence, and right to a fair trial. It can also create conflicts or tensions between law enforcement agencies and phone users or providers. They may have different interests or values regarding encryption and security.

How does EviCore NFC HSM technology developed by Freemindtronic offer a high level of protection for phone users?

Remote activation of phones by the police can be facilitated by exploiting security flaws, installing malware, or requesting backdoors in encryption technologies. However, some encryption technologies may be resistant to these measures and offer a higher level of protection for phone users. One of them is the EviCore NFC HSM technology developed by Freemindtronic.

This technology lets users create their own encryption keys in a random way and store them in a physical device that communicates with the phone via NFC (Near Field Communication). The device also lets users define their own trust criteria that must be met to use the keys or their segments. The encryption is done in post-quantum AES-256 mode from either a device compatible with the EviCore NFC HSM technology or from an encrypted enclave in the phone created in the Key chain (Apple) or the Key store (Android) via the EviCore HSM OpenPGP technology. The encryption keys are segmented and superior to 256 bits. Moreover, they are physically externalized from computer systems. Everything is designed by Freemindtronic to effectively fight against espionage and corruption of telephone, computer, communication and information systems. Finally, without a server, without a database, even in air gap and airplane mode works EviCore NFC HSM or EviCore HSM OpenPGP technology. Everything is designed to work in volatile memory to leave no trace in telephone and computer systems.

This technology offers a high level of security and privacy for phone users who want to protect their data from unauthorized access, including by the police. It also offers a high level of performance and usability for phone users who want to encrypt or over-encrypt all types of messaging in the world, including SMS and MMS. It also works with other applications that use encryption, such as email, cloud storage or blockchain.

Furthermore, this technology is designed to be totally anonymous, autonomous, unconnected, without a database, without collecting any information of any kind on the identity of the user, nor on the hardware, nor on the terminals used. The technology is designed to be totally isolated and totally independent of the security of the terminal used whether it is connected or not. Freemindtronic does not keep the unique pairing keys for each NFC HSM device. And even if it did, the user at installation will automatically generate segmented complementary keys for encryption with administrator and user passwords. Each NFC device has a unique 128-bit signature dedicated to fighting against counterfeiting of NFC devices. It is also used as a key segment. The secret stored in eprom memories or in enclaves of the phone and/or computer can be individually secured by other segmented keys characterized by additional trust criteria such as a geozone, a random hexadecimal code via an existing or generated QR code or Bar Code via EviCore HSM. It is therefore physically impossible for Freemindtronic but under judicial assignment to decrypt data encrypted via EviCore HSM technologies even with a quantum computer.

Conclusion

Remote activation of phones by the police is an intelligence technique. It aims to fight terrorism and crime by accessing data or sounds and images from phones without consent or knowledge. Law enforcement agencies in various countries have used or considered this technique. For example, France, the United States, Germany, Italy, Israel, Canada, China, and the United Kingdom. However, this technique raises technical, legal, ethical, and social challenges. They need to be addressed.

On the technical side, remote activation of phones by the police depends on three factors: compatibility, connectivity, and security of the phones. It can be done by three methods: exploiting vulnerabilities, installing malware, or using spyware on phones.For example, EviCore NFC HSM technology developed by Freemindtronic protects data and communications on phones from remote activation by the police. Encryption technologies can make this technique more difficult or impossible by preventing law enforcement agencies from accessing data or communications on phones, even if they remotely activate them.

On the legal side, remote activation of phones by the police requires a legal framework that regulates its use and scope. Laws or regulations can authorize it and specify the conditions and criteria for its application. Legal remedies can also challenge it and contest or oppose its validity or legality.

On the ethical side, remote activation of phones by the police involves a trade-off between security and privacy, as well as between effectiveness and legitimacy. It can enhance security by providing more information and evidence to law enforcement agencies to prevent, investigate, and prosecute crimes. It can also undermine privacy by letting law enforcement agencies access personal or professional data without notification or justification.

On the social side, remote activation of phones by the police raises issues or debates that affect human rights and civil liberties. For example, privacy, confidentiality, dignity, presumption of innocence, and right to a fair trial. It can also create conflicts or tensions between law enforcement agencies and phone users or providers, as they may have different interests or values regarding encryption and security.

Therefore, remote activation of phones by the police is a complex and controversial technique that requires a careful and balanced approach that respects the rights and interests of all parties involved. The French bill on remote activation of phones by the police and the EviCore NFC HSM Open PGP technology developed by Freemindtronic illustrate the complex and evolving relationship between intelligence and encryption in the digital age. They raise questions about finding a balance. It is between security and privacy, between public interest and individual rights, between innovation and regulation.

: According to Okta, privacy is the right to control how your information is viewed and used, while security is protection from threats or dangers (https://www.okta.com/identity-101/privacy-vs-security/).

: According to Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, finding a balance between security and privacy requires addressing technical, legal, and social questions (https://carnegieendowment.org/2019/09/10/moving-encryption-policy-conversation-forward-pub-79573).

: According to Springboard, finding a balance between innovation and regulation requires cooperation among stakeholders and respect for human rights (https://www.springboard.com/blog/cybersecurity/privacy-vs-security-how-to-balance-both/).