Canada: Competitive Intelligence | Smart Phones

'Intelligence Gathering'

Intelligence gathering has been an integral part of statecraft, so is information protection.

Encryption is essential to information protection.

The Enigma machine was a key variable for Hitler's army to conquer and spread dominance in Europe during World War II, until its successful decryption by the English led to Hitler's defeat.

Why use mobile phones to gather intelligence?


Why would individuals trust their cell phones to place all their information?
Cell phones are with individuals at all times. Access to the physical device is usually secured through a password. This creates an element of trust. The user of the device believes that if the physical device is secured so are its contents. Like securing a box would imply that its contents are secured. This trust encourages the individual to place information into the device which he/she would not otherwise. The trust in the device is the reason for information being stored therein.


What is quality of information and why would cell phones have it?
Cell phones provide quality information.

Accuracy of Information
An individual trusts his or her cell phone. This trust influences the individual to place accurate information onto their devices as they see no reason to camouflage it.

Up-to-date information
The natural instinct of an individual is to have access to up-to-date information. The physical device is available with the individual at all times.  It is convenient and easy to update information on the cellphone as and when changes occur to a contact's information.

Individuals tend to record as much information as they need in their cellphones. On occasions the notes section in the address book records additional information that does not have a dedicated field assigned.

Cell phones contain

  • Detailed contact information: That is who all one would know and who they are?
  • Geo positions including time stamp: This records where the individual was and at what time.
  • Conversation: Otherwise considered confidential like SMS messages, WhatsApp, BBM, emails.
  • Calendar: Who is the subject meeting? When? Where? And possibly "why" as well is recorded in the cellphone.


According to the UN Telecom Agency Report there were 6.8 billion cell phone subscriptions in the world when population was 7.012 billion. With 97 cell phone subscriptions for every 100 citizens, that is 93% of Global population.

Why would existing phones be deficient in security?

Existing phones are available as a retail solution. This means that anyone can walk into a store and buy the device. The seller has no influence on how the technology would be used by the buyer.  If the buyer intends to use the security features against interests on society, case in point is the security of BBM whereby use of Blackberry devices by the perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, the seller has no control. This leads to the requirement that security features need to have balance so that security agencies can access the devices and their communication, but not the 'BAD GUYS'. This leads to the requirement that manufacturers, as a matter of design, have a back door into the device.

The manufacturer's advantage:

The manufacturer of the device is also the developer of the essential code that operates the device. This allows the manufacturer to embed a code that could potentially provide the manufacturer access to the device and contents. There are three core cellphone technologies namely BlackBerry OS, Apple iOS and Android (Samsung being popular). The operating system (OS) for all three is proprietary. This means that access to details of the code's functionality is available only to the extent that the manufacturer is willing. There are parts of the code that are restricted and therefore unknown to its users.

Vulnerability: For security reasons, the manufacturer may not access to their devices. They may not agree in public.

How a target device can be compromised if you are not the manufacturer?


For protection against being 'listened to', one of the common solutions is the use of encryption apps. They are applications that can be downloaded from online stores and claims to protect conversation. This takes care of voice communication from one point of the encryption software to the other point of the encryption software - the Green Zone.

Vulnerability: If an app can be installed as hiddenware, where it is installed between the kernel and the app, then the hiddenware can continue to intercept voice communication while the encryption app gives the perception that communication is secured.


Boltware are software apps that come pre-installed with the device. The user cannot uninstall or otherwise remove them. If they are 'BOLTED' in the device, they are considered boltware, like Samsung and Google apps that come pre-loaded on Samsung phones.

Vulnerability: The functionality of these apps is beyond the control of the user. The app's true functionality is known to the extent it is made known.

Technology has only simplified Intelligence


The easiest channel to obtain information from a device is to obtain the authorization of the user to gather that information. When an app is downloaded such as a NEWS app, during installation it requests authorization to most, if not all, resources on the device e.g. storage, camera, Wi-Fi, etc. More often than not, an average user would click 'agree' to the installation without reading what is being agreed to or the type of access being provided. This app now can gather information and remit it to the app developer without violating any law or alerting the device user to the extent of information being shared.

Commercial Espionage: Is it for real?  How easy is it?  

In the News International phone-hacking scandal in the United Kingdom, employees of the now defunct News of the World and other British newspapers published by News International were accused of engaging in phone hacking, police bribery, and exercising improper influence in the pursuit of stories. Operation Tuleta was set up in June 2011 to address the issue of computer hacking, working alongside the on-going investigation into phone hacking allegations by journalists. Everyone from different walks of life was snooped upon.

  • Sienna Miller, actress
  • Kelly Hoppen, interior designer and Miller's stepmother
  • Tessa Jowell, Member of Parliament and former cabinet minister
  • David Mills, lawyer and Jowell's former husband
  • Andy Gray, sports pundit and former footballer
  • Joan Hammell, aide to the former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott
  • Sky Andrew, sports talent agent
  • Nicola Phillips, assistant to the publicist Max Clifford

It was not long ago that the law firms were under scrutiny for engaging private investigators to assist them in their legal cases.

With the possibility of certain governments, device manufacturers, telecom and Internet providers complicit in placing potential threats to national security above our privacy rights, ordinary encryption software doesn't stand a chance against the infiltration of spyware.

On a macro level, in the cloud, where would you even begin to detect embedded stealth software?

Consider these two cases in point: 1) a recent CBC report naming Canada's intelligence agencies, among several others, actively exploiting vulnerabilities in a mobile Web browser used by more than half-a-billion people worldwide; for another, 2) Bell's refusal to issue transparency reports after disclosing subscriber information to watchdog agencies.

When every bit and byte of information that can be monitored and gathered is fair game, the responsibility for safeguarding the security of our most valuable assets - our very identities and intellectual property - falls solely on our shoulders.

As much as the state engages in gathering intelligence, it is also actively engaged in protecting its information from other states and agencies interested in gathering it. What has changed over the years is how the intelligence of the target is gathered and how the information of self is protected.

This article was originally written for and published by the Financial Management Institute of Canada for the March 2016 edition of the fmi*igf Journal.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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