Edward Snowden and collaborator Andrew Huang have developed a smartphone case that will spot when a user’s phone is being hacked.

The smartphone case, also known as the ‘introspection engine’ monitors the phone’s components to detect when it begins to send data unexpectedly.

Snowden describes our smartphones as “the perfect tracking device”, which can be very dangerous if it falls into the wrong hands.

With this in mind, Snowden’s work aims to equip journalists, activists and rights workers with the tools to know when their phones are divulging their whereabouts, even when the device is supposed to be in airplane mode.

Tracking your movements

If you have a mobile phone that is turned on, a historical log of all your movements has already been generated. Due to the way that the mobile network functions, your device is constantly talking out loud via radio signals. This provides a unique identity which authenticates you to your phone company.

The more worrying part is that the unique identifier can also be monitored as it travels over the air by harmful third parties.

Some consider switching on ‘airplane mode’  a solid form of defense. But Snowden explains that GPS is still active in airplane mode on iPhones since iOS 8.2.

Malware suites, designed by hackers, can activate radios without any warning from the user interface. Snowden states, “Trusting a phone that has been hacked to go into airplane mode is like trusting a drunk person to judge if they are sober enough to drive.”

As journalists deal with high-risk information on a daily basis, this scenario leaves them in a position of great vulnerability.

What’s next?

Currently, the case for the iPhone 6 is being developed, however, cases for alternative phones may also be in the plan in the future.

The phone case device is still at academic project stage and far from market ready.

However, the implications could well impact the way we view and use our “tracking devices”.

See the full findings of Snowden and Huang.

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