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02 January 2014

Top secret program to target iPhones: Australian agencies may have known

Slides suggest there were plans to develop software allowing the NSA to remotely access text messages, photos, voice mail and live calls on iPhones.

Australian intelligence agencies may have had knowledge of a top secret US National Security Agency program for targeting iPhones, according to newly-released documents.

Slides released on Monday by security researcher Jacob Appelbaum suggest there were plans to develop software called DropoutJeep to allow the NSA to remotely access text messages, photos, voice mail and live calls on the Apple devices.

The slides say that to install the software physical access to the phones would be needed, but flag the possibility of remote access in the future: "A remote installation capability will be pursued for future use."

The documents, which date to 2008, are classified as top secret but are cleared for release to "FVEY", shorthand for the Five Eyes agreement to share intelligence between the US, Australian, New Zealand, Canadian and UK governments.

The classification of the documents means that intelligence organisations such as the Australian Signals Directorate, which maintains a close relationship with the NSA, could have knowledge of the program.

The Department of Defence said it was unable to provide a comment by deadline.

Apple has denied it had any knowledge of the tool, and said in a statement: Apple has never worked with the NSA to create a back door in any of our products, including iPhone. Additionally, we have been unaware of this alleged NSA program targeting our products. We care deeply about our customers' privacy and security.

Whenever we hear about attempts to undermine Apple's industry-leading security, we thoroughly investigate and take appropriate steps to protect our customers. We will continue to use our resources to stay ahead of malicious hackers and defend our customers from security attacks, regardless of who's behind them.

The new slides were released as part of a presentation Appelbaum gave at the 30C3 conference. His presentation contains a number of slides that outline in great detail the different methods the NSA can use to intercept communications.

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