Angry Birds Space

The NSA might not need so-called “backdoor access” to the largest tech firms in the world just to gather data on the public. According to The Guardian, the NSA and GCHQ take advantage of other ways of collecting data, like “leaky” applications that provide information on their users. The tactic was recently spilled by Edward Snowden to various news outlets, though it isn’t entirely surprising: leaky apps can provide anyone who’s looking the access to that sort of data.

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In one NSA document spilled by Snowden called “Golden Nugget,” the agency states: “Perfect scenario – Target uploading photo to a social media site taken with a mobile device. What can we get?” Without a secure application, certainly, though Facebook and other social networks may be harder to crack.

Instead, the NSA is going after apps such as popular games, Google Maps and “other mapping apps,” The Guardian said. The mapping applications provide location data, as expected, while games that use advertising from Millennial Media, including those published by Rovio (Angry Birds), Activision (Call of Duty) and Zynga (Farmville, Poker) provide “particularly rich” data, according to the news outlet.

With a document from the GCHQ, Snowden revealed that the agency’s are trying to bolster tech to continue gaining access from applications, including new ones that may be more secure. “Faster developments against new mobile internet applications,” is described in one briefing, as is “better locating of mobile devices.”

The leaks go further into how the GCHQ and NSA are working to identify individuals and then snoop on their data, including through strategies for listening to a conversations, tracking locations, turning on a microphone, activating a phone that’s been turned off and more. Those strategies are all named after characters from The Smurfs, and include “Tracker Smurf,” “Nosey Smurf,” “Dreamy Smurf” and “Paranoid Smurf.”