Things you don't need to worry about: Snowden doesn't use an iPhone, says his lawyer

There's a story going around that quotes NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden's lawyer as saying Snowden won't use an iPhone because it has "special software" that could gather information about him. Instead, the lawyer says, Snowden has a simple phone". There's no first-hand account from Snowden and no details about what the "special software" might be — a web cookie? who knows! — but that hasn't stopped the quote from making its way across the sensationalism-over-security parts of the internet. So, what's really going?

Here's the full quote, via Sputnik News:

"Edward never uses an IPhone, he's got a simple phone… The iPhone has special software that can activate itself without the owner, having to press a button and gather information about him, that's why on security grounds he refused to have this phone," Anatoly Kucherena told RIA Novosti.

Again, nothing directly from Snowden and no real information on what he's purportedly concerned about. But here's the thing — if you're Edward Snowden, the phone you'd most want to be using right now is the closest thing to a rock you can find.

Modern smartphones are smart — they're computers. Computers run complex operating systems and apps. If you're Edward Snowden, never mind exploits, you probably don't want to have anything to do with things like web browsers and cookies. If you're Edward Snowden, you probably want to use something as dumb and disposable as possible — probably many burner phones, burned with incredible frequency...

For most everyone else, including almost everyone reading this, there's absolutely nothing to be concerned about here.

No new security exploits were disclosed by Snowden's lawyer in that story, and Apple has been good about responding to previous exploits. UDID tracking, which some have, for some reason, decided to link to the story, was shut-down by Apple years ago. In fact, when it comes to privacy, Apple couldn't have been more clear (opens in new tab). (Their stance on end-to-end encryption has even led to FUD being spread by law-enforcement agencies.)

Absent any new exploits or disclosures, it's a non-story. Worse, by once again contributing to the noise, by putting the iPhone in quotes and headlines just to get attention, by making everything sound scary, it makes legitimately scary stories harder to distinguish. And when it comes to things as important as security and privacy, we need to be able to tell the legitimate stories from the noise.

Rene Ritchie
Contributor

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

24 Comments
  • ** Yawn... Definitely as slow news day.
  • Slow comment day brah? :)
  • Ahhhh WHO CARES!!! Sent from the iMore App
  • 90% of the internet based on pickup, right?
  • Most users, actually.... Can't believe you spent the energy on that reply; it's barely a reply.
  • he should using the iNoose
  • uFascist?!
  • I wonder what data they purport is being gathered? If it's general location or something stupid like that, one could argue any phone, smart or dumb, does this, the cell network needs to know which tower your phone is connected to to route phone calls. Either way, yeah, the original article is waste of our time. Sent from the iMore App
  • Snowden had been involved at the NSA during the time they were boasting about a "100 percent success rate" with iPhones ( http://appleinsider.com/articles/13/12/30/nsa-worked-on-iphone-spyware-t... ), so it seems reasonable that he would be wary of using one. That success seems largely based on one-time physical access, so likely it was the trusted device backdoor, since mostly closed, but if I was a high-profile potential target like Snowden, I would certainly be concerned.
  • Yeah, like I said, I'd expect Snowden to be using the closest thing to a rock as possible. But that's not a scenario that extrapolates to the readers of most outlets.
  • As you eluded to Dev from Tipb, his information is based on how things were 2-4 years ago. Snowden's original disclosure was monumental, but as time passes his opinion on tech is less interesting me, as it's from a snapshot in time.
  • Yup. I have no more worry over my iPhone thsn I would any other device - I just understand why he would.
  • Snowden himself should speak up and confirm this instead of us getting it second hand through his lawyer. Because if it is true that this is what he thinks of the iPhone I think that it will confirm that Snowden's paranoia has finally gone off the deep end. Apparently he hasn't heard about law enforcement's recent complaints about iPhone encryption and security. Sent from the iMore App
  • This guy has access to more information than we could ever dream (probably not the best word to use) of seeing so if this is true I'd be very concerned about privacy issues.
  • Ho hum...sounds like a 'Snowden problem' to me...
  • He (Snowden, not his lawyer) probably means this, or something close;
    http://www.zdnet.com/article/forensic-scientist-identifies-suspicious-ba...
  • Impossible... Apple will never be hacked... Ask Rene! (actually, it's not a hack until someone identifies it, so apple might already be being hacked, and nobody but the hacker knows it... Hmmm) Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Threat modelling. If you are Edward Snowden, the risks to you are much different from 99% of the world. You probably won't use internet at any place you sleep or frequent; you probably have several 'sites' and 'devices' just for using internet, including 'dummy sites'. You probably even employ sneakernet for certain tasks.
  • A person on the run is never going to register a phone sim or a handset in his real name. He must be using his fake identities or making someone buy for him, for all things traceable.
  • You need to watch the United States of Secrets PBS documentary. It's available on Netflix. Snowden absolutely said the iPhone has an NSA backdoor and wouldn't even talk to the journalists he leaked documents to if the had an iPhone on them. The had to visit him without their iPhones.
  • Yessir... Seen it. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • I apply the Occam's razor to these dilemmas: If Apple cannot get their maps to work, or the wetaher app to show the temeprature, how likely is it that they can manage to implement a sophsiticated NSA backdoor for the security agency? Not very. The simplest explanation is often the likeliest to be true. The 911 conspiracy theories can be approached similarly.
  • I apply the Occam's razor to these dilemmas: If Apple cannot get their maps to work, or the weather app to show the temeprature, how likely is it that they can manage to implement a sophisticated NSA backdoor for the security agency? Not very. The simplest explanation is often the likeliest to be true. The 911 conspiracy theories can be approached similarly.
  • I apply the Occam's razor to these dilemmas: If Apple cannot get their maps to work, or the weather app to show the temeprature, how likely is it that they can manage to implement a sophsiticated NSA backdoor for the security agency? Not very. The simplest explanation is often the likeliest to be true. The 9/11 conspiracy theories can be approached similarly.