Edward Snowden, who’s been in exile from the US ever since he published reams of secret NSA documents, has come together with hacker Andrew Huang to design a case for the iPhone 6 that would be able to tell if your device’s antennas were off when you actually turn them off.
The pair, who have been communicating through Snowden’s own messenger app, Signal, showed off the design and discussed the warfare that government wages against journalists in exposing history-changing information at the MIT Media Lab.
“One good journalist in the right place at the right time can change history,” Snowden said through video stream. “That makes them a target, and increasing tools of their trade are being used against them.”
Namely, the cellphone — a communications tool that can be so thoroughly manipulated from afar to divulge whatever is inside it or whatever goes through it.
The case attaches to the innards of the device through the SIM slot (a supplementary SIM slot is provided on the case). A battery is on the case as well as a black-and-white screen that would tell the user about the phone’s radio activity — from GPS to Wi-Fi to, yes, cellular connections. If the case detected radio signals even when Airplane Mode is on or the phone is off, it can notify the user through audibles or messages on its screen. It could even offer an automatic “kill switch” to shut the phone off, cold.
“Our approach is: state-level adversaries are powerful, assume the phone is compromised,” Huang said. “We want to give a you-bet-your-life assurance that the phone actually has its radios off when it says it does.”
Huang has met up with hardware developers in Shenzhen and said that “the average guy who does iPhone modifications in China would see this [design] and think it’s not a problem” to execute.
Snowden has previously told of governments being able to spoof off-states on phones. He hasn’t carried a phone since 2013.