National Security Administration whistleblower Edward Snowden and Andrew "Bunnie" Huang, a hardware hacker, debuted their design for a device that would warn people if their iPhones are being spied on, during a presentation at the MIT Media Lab on July 21.
"One good journalist in the right place at the right time can change history," Snowden told the audience via video, notes Wired. "This makes them a target, and increasingly tools of their trade are being used against them."
The "introspection engine" looks like a regular case for an iPhone 6, but it's actually a mini computer with small wires that connect to the iPhone's circuit board via the SIM card slot.
Ideally, the device would notify iPhone owners if their iPhone is transmitting signals covertly.
Snowden and Huang envision their device being used by journalists in foreign countries.
"They're overseas, in Syria or Iraq, and those [governments] have exploits that cause their phones to do things they don’t expect them to do,” Huang told Wired. "You can think your phone’s radios are off, and not telling your location to anyone, but actually still be at risk."
People may think that they can simply turn their iPhone off or put the device inside a Faraday bag to stop all signals.
According to Huang, the bags may still leak information from the iPhone and some types of malware could give the illusion an iPhone is turned off when it is actually on.
The introspection engine is a pet project for Snowden, who told Wired that he has not carried a smartphone since his famous leak of NSA information because he fears being tracked by the U.S. government.
"Since 2013, I haven’t been able to have a smartphone like normal people," Snowden said. "Wireless devices are kind of like kryptonite to me."
Engadget notes that Snowden and Huang are only in the design stage right now, but aim to create a prototype in 2017.