back to article World recoils in horror as smartphone maker accused of helping government snoops read encrypted texts, track device whereabouts

In a report that has left lawmakers across the globe reeling, the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday claimed a smartphone maker helped government officials in Uganda access encrypted texts on a handset used by one of its own citizens, and track the device's whereabouts. It is, we think you will agree, virtually unheard of that a …

  1. Paratrooping Parrot
    Black Helicopters

    Thank you for biting the hand that feeds IT. It is this kind of insightful article that makes me love reading The Register.

    1. big_D Silver badge

      The sarcasm over the WSJ article just drips off the page, like blood from a fresh peck wound on their hand.

      1. SoloSK71

        My sarcasm meter broke off the top end half way through the article ;)

        1. Fatman
          Joke

          RE: sarcasm meter

          <quote>My sarcasm meter broke off the top end half way through the article ;)</quote>

          My old analog sarcasm meter pegged, then the actuating coil burned out. I wonder if they are still made, or am I stuck with one of those newfangled digital ones

          1. J. Cook Silver badge
            Coat

            Re: RE: sarcasm meter

            Fortunately, I upgraded mine with an auto-ranging circuit. But then, I also self-test it frequently.

            Mine's the with with the phrase "Sarcasm is only one of the free services I offer" printed on the back.

          2. J__M__M

            Re: RE: sarcasm meter

            My trusty sarcasm meter humped my leg then burnt my house down. My insurance agent is going to love this.

          3. AbortRetryFail
            Joke

            Re: RE: sarcasm meter

            3.6 roentgen? Not great, not terrible.

    2. Pen-y-gors

      +several for the "Ugandan affairs" reference (Private Eye passim)

      1. Red Ted
        Go

        Discussing Uganda

        Ohhhhh, stoppit, please.....

    3. J. R. Hartley

      I, for one, am shook.

      1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson

        I am absolutely shaken!! Must have a little lie down!!! I even feel an extra exclamation mark coming up any time!!!!

    4. Mike Moyle

      Agreed. This is top-tier Reg writing.

      Well done, Mr. McCarthy! Take a couple of attaboys out of petty cash.

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge
        Pint

        Well done, Mr. McCarthy! Take a couple of attaboys out of petty cash.

        Or let's at least offer him one or two of these -------------->

        I have to go wash my hands now, the dripping sarcasm is all over them and dripping on the floor.

        1. edge_e
          Pint

          At least two...

  2. hoofie

    Nope I'm lost

    I can't quite make out the target of this article : Huawei ? The US Government ? Uganda ? The WSJ ? The Red Sea Pedestrians ? All of Them ?

    I get a feeling the author is trying to be clever in their writing but I think they made it a bit too opaque - sorry.

    1. simonlb
      Happy

      Re: Nope I'm lost

      I think it's supposed to be Huawei, but as the article was in the WSJ it smells more like fake news to me.

      1. Fatman

        Re: smells more like fake news to me.

        I wonder how the Orange Genius in the White House is going to spin this?

    2. big_D Silver badge

      Re: Nope I'm lost

      I thought it was very clear...

      They were poking fun at the WSJ for ignoring the main points of focus of the story and wrapping it around a non-story to make political hay.

    3. Azerty

      Re: Nope I'm lost

      Maybe the author allows you to think for yourself, make up you own mind while providing some insight into the different perspectives? Reality is not easy, has an unlimited number of facets.

      A journalist should not target someone but provide a critical view on the facts and the things that were said.

      1. Robert Helpmann??
        Paris Hilton

        Re: Nope I'm lost

        Reality is not easy, has an unlimited number of facets.

        And as the number of facets approaches infinity, the surface of reality approaches a perfectly smooth curve, therefor reality is a perfect sphere. The WSJ is part of reality, but only part, which makes it a less than perfect sphere. I think we can posit at this point that it is pear shaped.

        I am going to have a lie down now I've managed to confuse myself.

        1. Radio Wales
          Holmes

          Re: Nope I'm lost

          I'm fresh out of facets this week. I will have to repurpose some taps in order to pour some scorn on the well-disguised sarcasm - or was it really irony?

          I'm losing the ability to discern.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Nope I'm lost

            >"I'm losing the ability to discern."

            Why would you slag off the LHC anyway?

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Nope I'm lost

      "I get a feeling the author is trying to be clever in their writing but I think they made it a bit too opaque - sorry."

      Maybe stop taking those pills for your headache and stop hitting yourself with that hammer at the same time? You might find the headaches clear up AND you can manage to decipher the subtleties of ElReg articles.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Nope I'm lost

      You must be new here :)

      Practice on a few Amanfrommars posts first, it'll help.

      :)

      1. Fatman
        Joke

        Re: Practice on a few Amanfrommars posts first, it'll help.

        BUT, take plenty of pharmaceuticals first.

        1. choleric

          Re: Practice on a few Amanfrommars posts first, it'll help.

          You'll need some afterwards too.

          1. ds6

            Re: Practice on a few Amanfrommars posts first, it'll help.

            Just chug bottles while reading to help with the pain.

    6. Just Enough

      Re: Nope I'm lost

      You just need to re-read the article while keeping in mind how helpful it is to the US government that Huawei should be caught doing this, and how remarkable that the WSJ managed to discover it.

      Is it true, though? Well, who knows.

      1. JetSetJim

        Re: Nope I'm lost

        I do like the way that it's targetting both Huawei the cell phone maker (to get s/w on the phone to log decrypted comms), and Huawei the network infrastructure vendor (for location info). Ignoring the fact that it's the network operator (MTN, Airtel, Vodafone or one of 4 other lesser known ones) providing the information.

        Obvs the buried story is "Ugandan govmt spies on opposition", not "Uganda uses intercept techniques made available by Huawei (ignoring the fact that other vendors would do exactly the same thing at the very least if provided with sufficient in-country legal documentation)".

        Huawei is not being "caught" doing the spying - it is more likely the operator responding to a legally-correctly framed request for information (or providing a back door to the info). And it's certainly not a hack, it's a standard interface provided by every network infrastructure vendor.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Nope I'm lost

        "True"? "True"??

        That word doesn't seem familiar. What does it mean?

        1. Mi Tasol

          Re: Nope I'm lost

          According to the big oranges lawyer (Rudy) the truth is not the truth.

          He is secretly in deep poo with all lawyers for exposing the lawyers creed to the public

          Remember lawyer is the olde englishe spelling of liar

    7. Craig 2

      Re: Nope I'm lost

      The Reg article was fairly convoluted but my Sarcasm Spidey Senses started tingling within the first few lines....

  3. sorry, what?
    Devil

    Just one problem with this article...

    Americans like Trump would read this and miss the sarcasm. El Reg needs to add special tags to sarcastic statements just to ensure that Trump and the Trumpettes don't take it the wrong way and cite the article as more reason to do some further bashing of "not US so not USeful" companies.

    1. lglethal Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: Just one problem with this article...

      Sarcasm? saar chasm?

      Thats a canyon in the Saarland, right?

      1. Efer Brick

        Re: Just one problem with this article...

        It's the North South divide

    2. big_D Silver badge

      Re: Just one problem with this article...

      I think it works fine. Normal educated people can't miss the sarcasm, which makes all the funnier when people reference it as a source to promote their agenda of bashing non-US companies.

      They point at the two engineers helping configure a piece of software, whilst quietly ignoring facts like AT&T having federal eavesdropping centers scattered across the US.

      1. Nick Kew

        Re: Just one problem with this article...

        Sarcasm?

        'Murica and Blighty both have songs whose authors were being bitterly sarcastic about them, yet they sing with straight faces and patriotic fervour.

        US: Guthrie's "this land is your land".

        UK: Blake's "Jerusalem" (in Parry's bombastic setting).

        Remind me, who "gets" sarcasm?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Just one problem with this article...

          At least Blake was just referring to an admittedly mythical past and looking forward hopefully to a possibly better future.

          He had no illusions at all about the present.

          1. Nick Kew

            Re: Just one problem with this article...

            No he wasn't! He was referring to a non-past. Asking a series of questions to which the answer is "No". He was bursting the bubble of English greatness and self-importance.

            It's only the Parry that wraps it in a mythic aura at odds with the words.

        2. YJotta

          Re: Just one problem with this article...

          That's sweet, but some people might say that a several hundred year old poem as your sole exam for the UK not getting sarcasm is a little weak.

    3. Pen-y-gors

      Re: Just one problem with this article...

      Sarcasm tags? Nah, if you can't spot sarcasm you shouldn't be reading El Reg

    4. J__M__M

      Re: Just one problem with this article...

      Americans like Trump can't read. duh.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Every 60 seconds someone in Africa is hacked by Huawei.

    1. status203

      Re: Marketing lies

      ... and they're getting really fed up with it!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Every .000000001 seconds someone in the US is hacked by Google and/or Facebook.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Join Facebook and get Google free today!

      2. YJotta

        fite the systam

    3. Mi Tasol

      Every 60 seconds someone in Africa is hacked by Huawei and everyone in the world is hacked by the US Homeland Security and Australian Department of Home Affairs.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You forgot

    The end tag to that article

    </sarcasm>

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon
      Facepalm

      Re: You forgot

      Was it really necessary?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: You forgot

      Does the sarcasm really ever end though?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: You forgot

      Thanks for the downvotes

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: You forgot

      Hahaha so many haters out today

    5. TimMaher Silver badge

      If you read the “Nope I’m Lost” comment above...

      ... you may see that the full tag set should have been:-

      <sarcasm cynical=“true”>”Body of text”</sarcasm>

  6. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    seemingly taken an intense interest in Ugandan affairs

    Bravo!

    You sneaked that one in :)

    1. davenewman

      Re: seemingly taken an intense interest in Ugandan affairs

      Not all the readers will remember the Private Eye articles about what a Ugandan diplomat did in an airport lavatory.

      1. Jedit Silver badge
        Headmaster

        "Not all the readers will remember the Private Eye articles"

        Not all Eye readers will remember what "discussing Uganda" means. I don't think they've used it in a long time.

        1. Nick Kew

          Re: "Not all the readers will remember the Private Eye articles"

          Not since I've been subscribing. But I approve of Eye references, even if they pre-date me.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: "Not all the readers will remember the Private Eye articles"

            They take you back to the days - quite a long time ago - when the Eye was actually satirical.

            Nowadays it has devolved into a near-duplicate of "Punch" - a magazine that the early Privateers always mocked mercilessly for being all jokes and no hard-edged satire.

            1. Nick Kew

              Re: "Not all the readers will remember the Private Eye articles"

              It's not at all Punch (which was great in a different way). Today's Eye is full of serious investigative journalism that's lacking - or at best a token corner - in the more mainstream press.

              And the best ever cover headline three weeks ago in its Loon Landing Souvenir Issue: "The Ego has Landed".

            2. Jedit Silver badge
              Alien

              "They take you back to the days when the Eye was actually satirical"

              The Eye still tries to be satirical, but it's got its work cut out for it when reality is less believable than fiction.

  7. MJB7

    Phew! It's a good job my online sarcasm detector has robust overload protection.

    1. big_D Silver badge

      Yes, if you were running an old 16-bit Sarcasm Detector, you would have had an overflow error.

      1. Zippy´s Sausage Factory

        I use an 8-bit sarcasm detector. I'm still waiting for it to load from datasette.

  8. Povl H. Pedersen

    Uganda

    Uganda has authorities that spies on people. I worked there for some months 20 years ago, when a shared 64kbit wireless high latency connection was great.

    After I got home, I was actually approached by somebody who wanted to recruit me to do hacking and spying on behalf of the politicians / secret police units.

    I contacted my home intelligence service, and was told that I could take the contract if I wanted, as this was not targeting NATO or our citizens. I decided against it. So yeah, most governements outside western europe spies on its citizens.

    1. Alumoi Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Uganda

      So yeah, most governements outside western europe spies on its citizens.

      Thanks for the laugh, have one on me.

      Every government spies on its citizens, western ones just do it silently. After all, if you have nothing to hide why worry, right? Oh, yeah, and think of the children!

    2. big_D Silver badge

      Re: Uganda

      A client I worked for in the UK ran the elections in an African country that was in the middle of a civil war in the early 90s. The election team used modems to connect to the central cc:Mail server in the UK, but the line kept dropping and they couldn't work out why...

      We did some analysis and when we listened on the line as the modem was handshaking there was a sudden, loud click on the line. The kit the regime was using was so old (and loud) that it was causing the line to be dropped. This caused the project leader to write a polite letter to the government representatives asking them kindly to stop listening on this line, it was only being used for email and if they were really interested, they could come by and look at the transcripts.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Uganda

      "So yeah, most governements outside western europe spies on its citizens".

      Hahahahahahahahahaha! Very funny indeed. All the more so as the commenter's name looks Swedish to me.

      For those who never took Logic 101, please note that the proposition quoted does not exclude the proposition "So yeah, most governements [sic] inside western europe spies [sic] on its [sic] citizens".

  9. Bronek Kozicki
    Unhappy

    The under-emphasised point is that

    ... the citizen placed under surveillance was also the member of the parliament, and also that they are not suspect of any wrongdoing. That says it all about state of democracy there.

    1. lglethal Silver badge
      Go

      Re: The under-emphasised point is that

      "that they are not suspect of any wrongdoing."

      They're a popular opposition politician. For many people in Governments across the World (not limited to Africa) that immediately means they ARE doing wrong.

      1. Pen-y-gors

        Re: The under-emphasised point is that

        Johnson..."collaborators"..,.

        I'm so looking forward to when they're all sent down for life in Dartmoor.

    2. Julz
      Coat

      Re: The under-emphasised point is that

      Do you really think that Her Britannic Majesties Secret Service thugs and slippers don't keep a very close eye on what her government and all those other pesky parliamentarians are up to? One has to know if they are actually going to do something rather than just produce hot air, after all. It's also such a good way to keep them in control.

      Mines the one with the dog eared copy Spycatcher in the poachers pocket...

      1. Afernie

        Re: The under-emphasised point is that

        "Do you really think that Her Britannic Majesties Secret Service thugs and slippers don't keep a very close eye on what her government and all those other pesky parliamentarians are up to?"

        Absolutely. Still, given the number of times various home-grown bombers and terrorists turned out to have been "known to the security services beforehand", I'm uncertain as how close an eye a very close eye really constitutes...

        1. big_D Silver badge
          Childcatcher

          Re: The under-emphasised point is that

          Yes, but tracking bombers is not as interesting as intercepting all that porn - think of the children!

          1. Ken Shabby

            Re: The under-emphasised point is that

            Think of the badgers!

        2. Mark 85 Silver badge

          Re: The under-emphasised point is that

          Absolutely. Still, given the number of times various home-grown bombers and terrorists turned out to have been "known to the security services beforehand", I'm uncertain as how close an eye a very close eye really constitutes...

          It's a question of priorities and funding. Since we've always been at war with Eastasia, our government can ignore them and focus on the citizens.

        3. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: The under-emphasised point is that

          I'm uncertain as how close an eye a very close eye really constitutes...

          It's too close to be consistent with a free society that respects civil rights, yet not close enough to be useful.

    3. John Bailey

      Re: The under-emphasised point is that

      "... the citizen placed under surveillance was also the member of the parliament, and also that they are not suspect of any wrongdoing. That says it all about state of democracy there."

      Yep.. That it is much the same as anywhere else.

  10. Azerty

    insight

    I like the insight it gives in the true nature of freedom of press in western democracy, the WSJ is a "renowned" media outlet, now watch publications all over the blindly republishing it. Chomsky called it the a propaganda machine.

    Honestly I am surprised the register mostly escapes this, I suppose I the Chomsky model this is explained because ElReg caters to a niche of specialists, not the general mainstream.

    1. Highinthemountains

      Re: insight

      It used to be renown, then Rupert Murdoch got his grubby hands on it and became the print version of FauxNews.

  11. Milton

    Private Eye?

    Can't help thinking that with its reference to "Ugandan affairs", this piece really belongs in Private Eye.

    Though I'm not sure that the Eye would have confected quite such a sarcasm-fest on the topic of criticism directed at Huawei. Yes, some of it is contrived tosh; but that doesn't actually change the facts. Perhaps El Reg could print an article explaining to itself the difference, in national security terms, between capabilities and intentions? Once this is firmly established in everyone's minds, much of the controversy around the question of whether a nation-state should trust Huawei, will simply go away.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    It's almost as if

    Bearing in mind the fact everyone in the west is now subject to mass surveillance from various "Democratic" governments; this sounds like a misinformation hit job.

    I'd like to see another newspaper investigate the WSJ investigation; pounds get you pennies, the evidence will be traced back to people working for (as an example) Apple, Samsung....... or more likely - The Donald.

  13. SVV

    extraordinary that Uganda, a sovereign government, would seek to probe one of its own citizens

    It certainly is extraordinary : most governments are probing ALL of their own citizens.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: extraordinary that Uganda, a sovereign government, would seek to probe one of its own citizens

      Even the aliens are at it.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: extraordinary that Uganda, a sovereign government, would seek to probe one of its own citizens

        Even the aliens are at it.

        The bigger the anal probe, the better?

  14. Augie
    Thumb Up

    Set Sarcasm to stun number one....

    Love it!

  15. a pressbutton

    Why did the WSJ think they would get huawei with such reporting?

    1. a pressbutton

      Someone should have said "xaiomi the evidence"

      1. ChrisC Silver badge

        Not possible, I must honor the NDA I signed.. However, another one of our team wasn't so concerned and blabbed all - yes, I'm sorry to say that Sam sung.

        1. Anomalous Custard

          I nearly choked on my apple when I read that.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          He was possibly bribed with a gift of a posh car

          .. a motorola

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Pixels, or it didnt happen

      2. Ripper38
        Pint

        "Xaiomi the evidence..." Booooya... but upvoted 'cos good

  16. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

    Minitruth has been really active...

  17. Alister

    Keiren must be suffering quite a painful jaw now, the tongue-in-cheek is intense!

  18. low_resolution_foxxes Silver badge

    Begads, Samsung would never allow such a thing.

  19. Rich 2

    Sarcasm aside...

    China has huge interests in Africa - basically it's raping it for whatever natural resources it wants.

    So... just thinking aloud here...

    What if Uganda wanted this info from the phone and told Huawei that if it didn't help, it (Uganda) might be less cooperative in helping China fleece it (Uganda)?

    Just a thought?

    1. PhilipN Silver badge

      “raping it for whatever natural resources it wants”

      Surely not. Only Western countries are entitled to do that. China must be stopped!

  20. chivo243 Silver badge
    WTF?

    WSJ

    Will Shoot Junk... We Sell Junk... Seems like a little muckraking, just a little.

  21. Sam Therapy
    Thumb Up

    Good on you, Kieren McCarthy and El Reg. Lang may yer lums reek, or something.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    In our post truth 140 character world, probably best to have a Declaration Of Sarcastic Content.

    You just cannot underestimate how stupid people can be...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      You most certainly can underestimate how stupid people can be. I suffer through this every single day.

  23. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Ah, a sunny day at this precise point where I'm standing at this moment

    Spyware on a mobile device? Come on, next you're going to tell me that my phone's uninstallable free weather app is tracking me.

    1. Nick Kew

      Re: Ah, a sunny day at this precise point where I'm standing at this moment

      I have a new phone (1 week old) following a minor accident with the old one. Both Android, but I have yet to RTFM for the new one and tell it how to behave. It's openly tracking me: during the time I've had it, it's asked me to rate supermarkets and pubs I've been to, and would doubtless have asked about a (superb) concert if I hadn't been a spoilsport and left it at home that evening.

      1. Bob.

        Re: Ah, a sunny day at this precise point where I'm standing at this moment

        In spite of being very security conscious over the years, blocking and locking down my laptops and phones, OSes and Apps, Somehow my data has leaked. I'm sure everyone in the on-line database world could probably find out my underpant size and preferred type if they wanted. (Medium trunks) and where I buy them (Tesco)

        My latest (second-hand) Samsung Galaxy S7 cannot [seemingly] be Rooted (to delete or disable ManufacturerWarez).

        I'm not sure I believe that, but if it ain't easy, I'll probably brick it.

        Anyway, keeping up with such things takes a lot of time and effort.

        I prefer writing innocent rubbish on forums.

        Security options, blockers, workarounds only work for a while before being ineffective and countered by the evil ones. I've given up, apart from 'reasonable' precautions.

        ------------

        Current annoyances:

        My Facebook Profile pic appears as icon on many sites. I haven't tracked down why.

        Phone Upday default news feed is Off, but it still updates and chimes.

        I get other bings and bongs at various points in the day too and no idea who is triggering them.

        1. stiine Silver badge

          Re: Ah, a sunny day at this precise point where I'm standing at this moment

          You aren't the only one. I think Samsung's "device maintenance" app is turning shit back on. I only ever turn on 4G to send/receive pictures or connect to the inernet when I'm out and about. I only turn on wifi to get on the network where I know I /can/ get on the network. I have disabled the builtin calendar, facebook installers, samsung pay et al, weather, voice mail, and every few days, they're all back on. I'm tempted to take a day off of work to backup my address book to paper and then root it so I can unstall all of the crap, starting with knox.

        2. Jaap Aap

          Re: Ah, a sunny day at this precise point where I'm standing at this moment

          Next time get a device that's on the list (uncheck discontinued devices):

          https://wiki.lineageos.org/devices/

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wow

    "The fact HUAWEI, allegedly, acceded to the demands of the Ugandan government to track a specific phone using someone else's software is not in any way comparable to the long-standing and absolutely above board and entirely fair systems that exist in the US, UK, and Australia to do more or less the same thing".

    Wow that is some gaslighting.

    One is a company that has solemnly vowed it does not and would never spy, the other 3 are sovereign states with security establishments.

    Thats kind of like saying Ericsson has been caught spying for the Brazilian government. Imagine the outrage. Because there sure as fuck would be plenty.

  25. Norman123

    Who doesn't spy?

    Google, Apple, NSA, UK, et. al. all spy for either "security" reasons, commercial reasons or industrial espionage. Spying on people and among states is probably older than oldest profession.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    US intelligence services are currently engaged in a global information campaign

    Without realizing that "there's no such thing as bad publicity".

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Glad to see

    that someone is standing up for the Ugandans.

    /s

  28. Miss_X2m1

    Was already "mentioned" back in July

    July 19 FT.com mentioned this story in a somewhat different twist.

    Israeli group’s spyware ‘offers keys to Big Tech’s cloud’

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Was already "mentioned" back in July

      Oh, NSO Group are a horrible bunch. They've appeared in numerous stories and reports from organizations such as Citizen Lab over the past few years.

      But it's not like the Israelis have a monopoly on this sort of thing. Cellebrite, who claim to be able to unlock any iPhone and sell that tech to police, are also Israeli. But the US has Palantir, Italy has Hacking Team, and so on. There are plenty of these commercial bad actors in the IT security space who make surveillance tools for governments, and who display an impressive lack of ethics.

  29. rskurat

    Glad to see the WSJ has a new revenue stream as the PR arm of the "intelligence" services.

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