Recently, the hacker Moxie was contacted by an agent of the Saudi Arabian telecom Mobily. This agent explained that they were working on a surveillance project and needed his expertise in making it happen. Since Moxie has given talks about how to intercept secure traffic and monitor it.
Since he has published information about this, he is used to being approached by people asking for his expertise in this field. He said that he typically doesn’t respond to such requests, but the title of the email caught his attention and he read further into it. The title read, "Solution for monitoring encrypted data on telecom."
He then proceeded to respond to the gentleman and over the course of a week found out that they were organizing a program to intercept mobile application data, specifically data coming from chat applications like Twitter, Viber, Line and WhatsApp. Since these applications do not directly send messages across the carrier’s SMS networks and only use the data networks, it is more difficult for them to know what’s being said across their networks. This appears to be a problem for the Saudis.
He stated that the Mobily representatives indicated that they had to have the ability to block and or monitor the data coming across these applications as a requirement from their regulator, the Saudi Government. They also stated that these applications were not the end of their goals and that they had been working hard to meet the requirements of their regulator and already had mobile data blocking working and needed help on monitoring. They already had figured out how to intercept WhatsApp and were surprised how easy it was to intercept.
When he denied their project on the principal of privacy, the carrier used the government’s terrorism justification to explain why such snooping was necessary. The direct quote from the people he was speaking with was, "I know that already and I have same thoughts like you freedom and respecting privacy, actually Saudi has a big terrorist problem and they are misusing these services for spreading terrorism and contacting and spreading their cause that?s why I took this and I seek your help. If you are not interested than maybe you are on indirectly helping those who curb the freedom with their brutal activities."
No, Saudi Arabia is not a free country by any measure, but at what point do we draw the line? If you communicate with anyone from Saudi Arabia, you potentially run the risk of being monitored. Furthermore, who says that our government isn’t already doing the same to us without our knowledge? Too many liberties, both electronic and not have been given up in the name of terrorism and we seriously need to consider and pay attention to what is going on around us. There’s a good chance that any and every word you’re saying to your friends over your chat apps is being monitored for no reason at all other than ‘for your own safety’.
We’re not trying to get political here, by any means. But we want you guys, our readers, to be aware that these things are going on and to be vigilant in protecting yourselves and your rights.