It connects you to the world, but your cell phone could also be giving anyone from your boss to your wife a window into your every move. The same technology that lets you stay in touch on-the-go can now let others tap into your private world — without you ever even suspecting something is awry.
The new generation
Long gone are the days of simple wiretapping, when the worst your phone could do was let someone listen in to your conversations. The new generation of cell phone spying tools provides a lot more power.
Eavesdropping is easy. All it takes is a two-minute software install and someone can record your calls and monitor your text messages. They can even set up systems to be automatically alerted when you dial a certain number, then instantly patched into your conversation. Anyone who can perform a basic internet search can find the tools and figure out how to do it in no time.
But the scarier stuff is what your phone can do when you aren’t even using it. Let’s start with your location.
You don’t have to plant a CIA-style bug to conduct surveillance any more. A service called World Tracker lets you use data from cell phone towers and GPS systems to pinpoint anyone’s exact whereabouts, any time — as long as they’ve got their phone on them.
All you have to do is log on to the web site and enter the target phone number. The site sends a single text message to the phone that requires one response for confirmation. Once the response is sent, you are locked in to their location and can track them step-by-step. The response is only required the first time the phone is contacted, so you can imagine how easily it could be handled without the phone’s owner even knowing.
Once connected, the service shows you the exact location of the phone by the minute, conveniently pinpointed on a Google Map. So far, the service is only available in the UK, but the company has indicated plans to expand its service to other countries soon.
So you’ve figured out where someone is, but now you want to know what they’re actually doing. Turns out you can listen in, even if they aren’t talking on their phone.
Dozens of programs are available that’ll turn any cell phone into a high-tech, long-range listening device. And the scariest part? They run virtually undetectable to the average eye.
Take, for example, Flexispy. The service promises to let you “catch cheating wives or cheating husbands” and even “bug meeting rooms.” Its tools use a phone’s microphone to let you hear essentially any conversations within earshot. Once the program is installed, all you have to do is dial a number to tap into the phone’s mic and hear everything going on. The phone won’t even ring, and its owner will have no idea you are virtually there at his side.
Recover deleted text messages (SMS) and last dialed numbers from any SIM cards and smart cards
Did you know that with the help of a simple, inexpensive device, anyone with access to your phone could read your private text messages (SMS), even if you have deleted them previously? This device can even recover contacts and a good number or previously dialed numbers.
You might be asking how this could possibly be legal. Turns out, it isn’t – at least, not in the ways we just described. Much like those fancy smoking devices designed “for tobacco use only,” the software itself gets by because of a disclaimer saying it doesn’t endorse any illegal use.
I did a little digging from Flexispy. You won’t find it on the flashy front page, but buried a bit further in the site, the company says you’re fine to use their program only “on a phone that you own, for protecting your children,” or for purposes like “archiving data.” It’s a bit of a contrast from the bold suggestions of “uncover[ing] employee espionage,” “catch[ing] cheating husbands,” and “bug[ging] meeting rooms” that fill the company’s materials. After a little more explanation, their answer as to the legality of the service ends with a broad statement: “Please consult a qualified lawyer in your country for the correct answer to this question.”
Let me make it easier for you: Once you get into listening in to private conversations without either party’s consent, you’re treading rough water that could sweep you straight into jail. Whether it’s an employee or a spouse on the receiving end of your mission, neither federal nor state privacy laws take violations lightly in America. Getting caught could cost you several years behind bars, among other serious penalties.
Detecting and protecting
Finding spyware on your phone isn’t easy. There are dozens of bug detectors available from surveillance companies, but the only true fix is taking your phone to your provider and having them wipe it out altogether. That will restore the factory settings and clear out any hidden software that’s running on your phone.
Security experts say there may be some subtle signs your phone is invaded:
You seem to have trouble shutting it off, or it stays lit up after you’ve powered down.
The phone sometimes lights up when you aren’t making or receiving a call, or using any other function.
You regularly hear odd background noises or clicks when you’re on the phone.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do to safeguard your cell just yet. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time until we see McAfee-style programs to firewall your phone and keep intruders out. For now, though, the only sure-fire form of protection is to keep a close guard on your phone. Don’t accept Bluetooth connections unless you know what they are. Most important, make sure no one has access to install something when you aren’t watching. Otherwise, they may soon be watching you when you least expect it.
An entire field of forensic study is cropping up around the device, both because it’s so popular, and because it records a wealth of information about the person using it. Whenever you close the map application, for example, the iPhone covertly snaps and stores a screenshot, giving police a handy record of your whereabouts. Of course, any phone can contain data, but it’s easier to grab evidence off an iPhone than a Blackberry or Android phone, law enforcement officials tell the Detroit Free Press. “Very, very few people have any idea how to actually remove data from their phone,” says one cell phone forensic researcher. “It may look like everything’s gone, but for anybody who’s got a clue, retrieving that information is easy.”