The No. 10 security team was very jumpy about last week’s Cabinet meeting. The cause of their concern: the presence of a clutch of iPads.
Their worry was that the devices could be hacked by a foreign power and used to listen in to Cabinet. So, Ministers were instructed not to touch them.
The iPads were there for a presentation by the man in charge of the Government Digital Service, Mike Bracken, and Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude. They explained how the GDS would save the economy close to £2 billion a year within the next four years. Unusually for Cabinet, their talk was met with a round of applause.
But even as Ministers clapped, security moved in to remove all the iPads from the room. They were taking no chances with Cabinet careless talk.
This story has been picked up by a number of blogs as well as the Telegraph and the Independent. So far as I can tell no one has confirmed the original report, though the Telegraph did go on to add a few unrelated details:
Ministers in sensitive government departments have been issued with soundproof lead-lined boxes, which they must place their mobiles in when having sensitive conversations, it emerged this week.
In spite of the lack of confirmation, I tend to think this story is true. Or at least it is close enough to being true that I cannot guarantee that it is fiction.
While this might sound preposterous to some, I checked with one engineer I know, and apparently the UK govt isn't the only organization to be worried about hacked iPads. She had just returned from a 2 year stint as a civilian DOD employee Afghanistan, and she told me that iPads and other mobile devices were not allowed in the offices and other secure areas because of security risks. The concern is that someone could use the GPS on the mobile device to localize it and use it as a target, so at a minimum the devices have to be powered down.
And that's not the only corroboration I found. As you might recall, news broke in August that the FBI are capable of hacking Android smartphones and remotely listening in. While that was Android and not iOS, it still shows us that there could be valid security concerns.
But I will be honest and say that I still think some parts are a little wild, including:
It is feared China, Russia, Iran and Pakistan have developed the ability to turn mobiles into microphones and turn them into transmitters even when they are turned off, using a Trojan computer virus.
Nah, given the recent revelations concerning the NSA spying on everyone and their sister I think it is much more likely that the US is the one who is hacking the iPads. And if not the US then Anonymous. They almost certainly have the technical skills, wouldn't you agree?