Smartphone users are highly sensitive about privacy, not least because so much personal data is stored in just a few square centimeters. We shudder at the thought of what happened to Jennifer Lawrence and company, and that it may happen to us; someone spying on our most intimate data.
Yet that’s not all we should be wary of: There are some spy programs that can even remotely activate the microphone on your device and record you. One of the most infamous of these is StealthGenie, a spyware app that behaves like a Trojan and supports iOS, Android and Blackberry. It can geolocate the device, listen to conversations, capture messages and images and even activate the microphone, tracking all your actions throughout the day.
A company video claimed that the app had more than 100,000 satisfied customers, though it looks like the game is now up. Last October the company’s CEO was arrested in the USA for promoting and selling this phone monitoring app..
It is paradoxical at least that this arrest should have occurred in the United States, where it has been revealed, thanks to Edward Snowden, that the government has been spying on the phones of so many users around the world. Such revelations from the CIA’s ex security analyst revealed that the NSA was using all types of systems to spy on smartphones, even using apps such as Angry Birds. And you thought killing a few pigs from your cell phone wouldn’t have any consequences!
A simple search will return a host of apps that promise to enable you to spy on your neighbor’s phone. So next time you need to visit the bathroom, perhaps it’s best not to take your phone with you.
Researchers at Stanford University have been analyzing these apps and the ease with which our phone mikes can be turned against us. For this purpose they have developed their own app, Gyrophone, which turns the phone gyroscope into a means for capturing acoustic signals between 80 and 250 Hz (e.g. the human voice). This demonstrates how easy it is to spy on users.
By using this app, they have shown that it is possible to identify both the person speaking as well as what they are saying by measuring the acoustic signals in the vicinity of the phone. The researchers have already demonstrated this on Android devices and are now working on iPhone.
Other universities are also concerned about smartphone spying. Researchers at Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto have analyzed the Italian ‘Hacking team’ spyware. They have worked out how it manages to store all user information, take screen grabs, record audio conversations, use the GPS tracker or activate the microphone when users are connected to a public Wi-Fi network.
The researchers have also uncovered the existence of 350 servers in 40 countries around the world storing data from this tool. Are governments around the world using these tools to monitor our every move?
So if you thought that tapping phones in hotel rooms, with a group of police or high-tech criminals monitoring all conversations belonged only in spy movies, you were wrong. Be aware that your smartphone, which you always keep within arm’s length so as not to feel lonely, is potentially a tool for spying on every sound you make. All you can do is be more careful with your phone security and pray that your life is so boring that nobody wants to spy on you.