iPads and mobile devices have been banned from Cabinet meetings over concerns the mobile devices could be compromised by foreign governments trying to spy on top level government meetings, the Mail on Sunday reports.
Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, used iPads in a presentation last week about how the Government Digital Service might save the UK £2bn a year.
But after the presentation the devices were removed by Downing Street security staff to preclude the possibility that more sensitive Cabinet discussions might become the target of eavesdropping.
Smartphone malware is capable of surreptitiously turning on the microphone of infected devices. The resulting audio might be uploaded to a server for later analysis by a hostile actor, all without the victim being aware that anything was amiss.
Security services fear that China, Russia, Iran and Pakistan might have developed the ability to turn mobiles into microphones using malware, the MoS reports.
The paper adds that ministers in "sensitive government departments" were recently issued with soundproof lead-lined boxes to leave their mobiles in during meetings. The tactic mimics the tradecraft trick practised by Edward Snowden when he met reporters in Hong Kong and insisted they placed their phones in fridges before any meeting.
The heightened security concerns about minister's mobile and fondleslabs is the unsurprising result of reports that German Chancellor Angela Merkel's personal mobile had been bugged by the NSA for years until the operation was exposed last month.
Security experts reacted to the reports by noting that such surveillance, while arguably impolite among friends, ought to be expected. Ministers need to be provided with secure communication devices and the Merkel spying affair has at the very least left the German Federal Intelligence Service, with some awkward questions to answer.
William Hague, the British foreign secretary, admitted his phone has been modified by GCHQ to prevent bugging. “I think my phone has been modified by GCHQ enough that it'd [bugging] be difficult, but I'm sure the Chinese have had a good go," the Daily Telegraph reported Hague as saying. ®