This post is also available in: עברית (Hebrew)
Nowadays, everything is available at the palm of our hand. Nevertheless, these amazing capabilities, combined with our instinctive fear of the “Big Sister Syndrome” (The “big brother’s” nosy sister) actually creates a hotbed for the “bad guys”: hackers, thieves, vandals, terrorists and anyone with bad intentions.
According to various studies in this field, there are over two Billion smartphones in the world today. In 2015, 83% of all internet traffic worldwide is expected to run to and from mobile devices. All our private and secret information resides in our smartphone or somewhere in the cloud: e-mails, text messages, friends and contact persons, files, pictures, bank accounts, savings, files, and so on and so forth. This information is safeguarded and protected by sophisticated encryption mechanisms and processes designed to make sure no-one gets access to our data. For the most part, the key to this information is our username and password. There are additional, other, sophisticated cybersecurity methods.
The various software installed on most smartphones is based on a common operating system (iPhones on IOS, other smartphones on Android, RIM and so on). Each user installs his or her own favorite and required “Apps” – specific, dedicated, applications that provide certain functionality and utility (or game) features. Quite often, these Apps are only “reps” of the actual application, which resides in the cloud. For example “Gmail”, a free e-mail service offered by Google. Our account is somewhere in the world; our Gmail App interfaces with our account – sends and receives e-mails.
All those “bad guys” make use of this privacy haven in order to communicate between themselves worldwide, to train, plan and exchange information and data, all the way from how to build a bomb according to Al-Qaeda E-learning courses, to storing financial information and chain of contacts, such as drug lords.
There is a major technology gap in terms of the capabilities used for intercepting this kind of encrypted data on our smartphones. This technology, featuring the ability to intercept Apps and Cloud-based information for lawful interception goals – is new and fresh, truly the last word in the field.
A unique Israeli company called “MAGEN” (Hebrew for ‘Shield’), a start-up founded by young engineers and software programmers, all veterans of the IDF’s Intelligence Corps, has been applying their technical skills and operational know-how to develop “MABIT” (Hebrew for ‘Watching’), a tactical Apps and Cloud interception tool, which performs magic – no less.
A field agent barely has to walk inside a stadium or a restaurant – and this device starts collecting nearby information and data from the surrounding smartphones off the air. The data ranges from phone numbers, through user pictures, location history, browsing history and so on, to the “Holy Grail” – namely, the key to the ‘gates’ of the cloud storage. This is where the target’s username and password are stored, thereby enabling the agent to access different cloud based services (Gmail, Hotmail, Exchange, Dropbox, LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and so on). These are applications and services we all use, and as far as we are aware, they are cyber-secure. The agent in our example gathers the data without the target noticing anything; the agent gains access to all classified and encrypted information without leaving so much as a trace – unless a trained professional examines the target’s platform later on. Then, an intelligence analyst will use all this data, along with additional material, to put together an intelligence picture of the target in particular and the whole surveillance in general.
Once all this data is gathered, different capabilities come into play. These range from Business Intelligence (BI) to Data Mining tools. The process involves analyzing, correlating and distinguishing the “signal from the noise” – using crawlers, semantics taxonomy analyzers, link analysis tools, un-structured to structured converters, meta-data extractors and many other intelligence-unique data mining tools.
The key to these capabilities is achieving the data – a task which the MABIT system enables.
Written by: Avi Yariv