Be wary of using your cell phone for anything but casual conversation
Who reading this article has a cell phone. I’d probably be pretty close in saying that at least 95-98% of the people reading this article have a cell phone of some sort. It may not be a smart phone (iPhone, blackberry, ms mobile, etc), but I’m willing to lay money that you’ve got one.
These are one of the most destructive pieces of personal privacy ever invented.
How you ask? – Well, let’s take a look.
There are applications out on the public market (and ones in the government sector that we’re not going into) that can track you, listen to your phone calls, read your e-mail and text messages, get your calendar items and MUCH more. it can even turn on your video camera and take photos through your phones camera.
Any and all of these items can be done without your knowledge and/or consent. Spyware can be installed either through a text message, e-mail, physical or remote connection to the phone via Bluetooth, wireless or Wi-Fi. Some services online will allow tracking of someone based on their phone number and what cell towers they are connecting to.
Old poster – good advice
Simple surveillance can be as easy as logging in to a web site, enter the targets phone number and then send a text message to it. The text message is key, it will ‘ping’ the phone, then associating to it. From that point forward, you can pinpoint anyone’s exact whereabouts, any time — as long as they’ve got their phone on them.
There are applications out there that will turn your phone against you hard. You think you’re turning your phone off? Possibly, or the ‘spy’ could have turned the off button into a “you think I’m off” button. it will turn the screen off, disable the normal keys, turn the sound off, turn vibration off and make it even look like it’s going through the power down process.
What it does though is actually run a subroutine to do all of this, but remain powered on so that they would be able to use the camera for either pictures, videos, voice or data communication. Including using it as a Wi-Fi access point.
Smart phones are the easiest to get software onto and provide the most ‘services’ that can be tapped. Other phones provide video, audio, picture and possibly GPS positioning.
There is also ways of accessing any data on the phone itself by collecting the SIM card from the phone. Duplicates can be made and the card replaced so the owner is not aware of it. How many of you remember the scene in the one Bourne movie where he knocked out the agent, duplicated the sim card, got to a car and plugged this card into his phone.
He now sees all of the texts, listens to voice mails, get’s phone numbers and calls? Well, it’s possible. It may not be as simple as how he does it, but it is possible. (at least not as simple if you don’t have government or ‘black hat’ backing).
Just because something’s in the movies and it seems out there, doesn’t mean that it’s not true.
Someone wishing to listen-in on your cell phone calls wont have to have tradecraft training like Jason Bourne to clone a phone – anyone can buy the needed equipment on the internet
This is happening on a daily basis, not only by criminals, but also by governments. In 2003 and 2004, the FBI used cell phone spy software to eavesdrop on organized crime families. They were also able to use that information during prosecution. It’s the same as a wire tap or search warrant.
Most government law enforcement agencies have their own special teams working on just this specific thing. NSA, CIA, FBI, DEA, they all have teams that are working on new ways of gaining information by using the cell phone and mobile devices such as the iPad.
Some indications that you may be a target of spyware or spying are;
- Screen lights up for no reason
- The flash on the camera goes off for no reason
- Noise in the background when you’re on the phone (not from the other person)
- Strange text messages
- The battery is warm even though you aren’t using it or charging it
- The battery goes dead faster than normal
- Notification lights blink or stay on even though they shouldn’t
- The memory of the phone is lower than it should be
- Strange phone numbers that you don’t recognize are in the phones memory or storage
- Strange applications that you aren’t aware of downloading or installing.
Remember, just because any or all of these are happening doesn’t mean you’re a target of spying, but it’s a good possibility - Especially if you’re:
- In a foreign country
- Have an ex-wife/husband
- Work for a government agency
- Are a civilian contractor
- Are a very attractive person (male or female)
- Have pissed someone off
Also some additional things to keep in mind are that over 200 companies sell spy-phone software online. They range in price from $50.00 to more than $3-500.
If you EVER suspect that spyware is on your phone, get a new phone or re-install the operating system. Your provider should be able to help you with that. Also, never ever let your cell phone out of your control or out in the open unattended. It only takes a minute or two to compromise it and you’d never know.
If you’re working with sensitive information, please be careful of what you say, where you say it. Cell phone spying isn’t the only way to gather information from your phone; it could be overheard as well.
Comments, questions, let me know in the comments – Thanks for the time.
Information Security Correspondent
Norm W. is an information security engineer currently employed as a CONUS civilian contractor. He has worked in the computer industry for the past 20 years and holds several security and non-security related IT certifications. Norm has worked with multiple agencies in the private and public sector as well as foreign companies and agencies to resolve information security issues.