The NSA and Android

Meant to write about this one last week… The headline on made me smile, I must admit – No wonder China is worried about Android – the NSA helped write its source code

NSA badgeIt makes some interesting points, about the role of government in open source projects, and the whole Snowden affair has thrown a spotlight on the way major software companies have (inevitably?) co-operated with government…

Jake Maxwell Watts writes:

Security Enhancements for Android is one of several projects that the US spy agency contributes to open-source operating platforms. Ostensibly, the NSA’s addition to Android is designed “to raise the bar in the security of commodity mobile devices,” an NSA researcher told Bloomberg Businessweek. And indeed, anti-hacking protection is actually what the spy organization is supposed to be providing.

But you can bet that Beijing is dubious about the NSA’s stated aims, especially after news that the US agency hacked millions of Chinese SMS messages and is working closely with American technology firms. Even before Snowden’s leaks, China was directing stinging criticism towards Google and Android – used in at least three quarters of China’s mobile handsets – and accusing it of “commercial discrimination” against Chinese companies. Apart from security concerns, Beijing is also keen to promote its own fast-growing tech companies, some of which are chafing at Google’s dominance.

It also gives me a cue to link one of the What is…? posts on the blog, the surprisingly popular (even before Snowden) What is… Security Enhanced Android?

It begins:

SE Android originated with the (US) National Security Agency, an intelligence agency responsible for protecting US government communications systems. It sought to address the increasing use of mobile devices throughout government bodies, along with a perceived need for improved security. Android was chosen, for its widespread use and the openness or adaptability of the platform.

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