US, British spies hacked mobile SIM card keys: report

February 20, 2015
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, SIM PHONE

US and British intelligence services can tap into mobile voice and data communications of many devices after stealing encryption keys of a major SIM card maker, a report said Thursday.

The report, from investigative website The Intercept, said the US National Security Agency and its British counterpart GCHQ obtained encryption keys of the global SIM manufacturer Gemalto.

Citing a 2010 document leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the report said that with the encryption keys, the intelligence services can secretly monitor a large portion of global communications over mobile devices without using a warrant or wiretap.

The Intercept said a covert operation led by GCHQ with support from the NSA was able to mine private communications of unwitting engineers at Gemalto, which is based in the Netherlands.

The report suggests the intelligence services could have access to a wider range of communications than has been previously reported. Other documents have indicated NSA can monitor email and traditional phone communications.

The NSA did not immediately respond to an AFP request for comment.

A Gemalto spokeswoman said in an email to AFP that the company “is especially vigilant against malicious hackers and of course has detected, logged and mitigated many types of attempts over the years.”

Gemalto “at present can make no link between any of those past attempts and what was reported by The Intercept,” the statement said.

“We take this publication very seriously and will devote all resources necessary to fully investigate and understand the scope of such highly sophisticated technique to try to obtain SIM card data.”

It added that the intended target was “not Gemalto, per se — it was an attempt to try and cast the widest net possible to reach as many mobile phones as possible.”

Gemalto, which produces billions of SIM cards and other digital identity products, describes itself as a provider of “trusted and convenient digital services to billions of individuals.”

The company was formed in 2006 by a merger of Axalto Holding NV and French-based Gemplus International.

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