Mobile phones and personal computers are very potent devices that escort us in our daily lives. We use them extensively in our day to day activities for many hours a day. As such they become closed companions to us, allowing us to communicate with others and the world. However, these devices have information and capabilities that can be used against us and harm us significantly.
People should be aware that their computers and smart phones are potentially spying devices that can leave them exposed. With improper use, they can reveal where we are, how we look, every conversation we have, our banking account information and more. In this article I review the spying capabilities of smart phones and computers, bringing them to people’s attention.
Mobile phones and computers connect to the cell grid or the internet for their operation. Upon connection the location of the device user is easily revealed. Even better: some devices have GPS ability which locates the person position directly in longitude and latitude coordinates. A small spying program in the device can transmit the location to people who want to know where you are at a certain time. This feature is not all-bad, however. As a taxi client you might want to know where the taxi you ordered is located and when it will arrive to your location, as the application GetTaxi offers.
Two decades ago, locating a person’s position required sticking a small transmission device to his car, listening and calculating his positions according to the ‘beeps’ it transmits. Now all you have to know is the person’s phone number and get the information from the cell phone grid or his own cell phone directly (once it is infected with Malware).
This type of tracking is used often by the police and other law enforcement agencies to position suspects around crime scenes at the time of the crime.
Smart phones and laptops contain a camera or more, which can take pictures and sometimes upload them automatically to photo sharing sites. This feature comes in handy as thieves who steal iPhones get their picture taken and uploaded, so the victim can bring them to justice. But at other times you can get your pictures (which might not be decent enough) taken and uploaded to the ‘cloud’. A spy software can operate the camera remotely at certain times and intervals and transmit your and others pictures to the person spying on you, revealing who you are with and what are you doing.
Recently on the news we heard that a wanted person was tracked and arrested after loading a picture he took using a smart phone to the internet. Apparently, his device embedded GPS information into the picture itself (Geo-Tagging) and this indicated where he was at the time the picture was taken.
Smart phones and laptops usually have a built-in microphone. This microphone can be operated remotely to record every conversation you have, which might be valuable information and evidence against you by others. While camera operation gives some indication (either with a LED light during its operation or a sound) the microphone operation is not indicated at all. Voice recordings are small in size (Compared to photos) and hours of recordings can be transmitted outside very easily.
Smart phones are ‘telephones’ first and foremost. Laptops too run communication and phone programs such as Skype. These phone conversations can be recorded and transmitted to person spying on you.
Nowadays, computers and smart phones are used to access bank accounts, transfer money, operate web sites, and business activities. Spying on these operations allows the attacker to connect to your bank account and steal money from it, inhibit your business operation, or use the information to compete with your business (industrial espionage).
Some sophisticated means have been developed to steal money from people’s bank accounts despite protective means imposed by banks’ security. One precaution measure, for example, was to demand the client’s approval by cell phone to money transactions. A special phishing attack was triggered against this means of security. Using social engineering, the victim got an SMS asking him to upgrade this cell phone, and this upgrade was in fact Malware infecting the cell phone itself. This Malware was giving automatic authorization for money withdrawals to the bank without the victim knowing about it.
Computers are used to convert ‘biological’ people’s thoughts into digital information. As such they house valuable information created by the person who uses them, such as designs, plans, articles and even books. This content might have value to other people and can be stolen. One incident reported was about an author that discovered some chapters of his books appear on the internet before his releasing it in any form. A quick investigation revealed that his former son-in-law infected his computer with Spyware and stole his book as he was writing it. (After pressing charges, the former son-in-law was sentenced to jail for several years).
Finger prints, bio-metrics
Some computers use bio-metric identity measures such as finger prints, eye scanners or facial scanner to identify the user and allow access to the computer. These means give better security than the regular username/password combination, but they pose another security threat to the owner. His finger print and biometric data can be stolen and used by others for malicious activities implicating him.
So, computers and smart phones are very powerful devices that house many aspects of our lives. While serving us, making our life much better and more efficient, they can also be used against us and allow others to cause us significant damages. We should be aware of this fact and use these devices wisely and with caution. Every person should perform a ‘risk analysis’ and take protective measures to ensure that certain catastrophe does not happen to him.
To protect our children from predators, we might not allow them to use smart phones.
To protect our intellectual properties, we might encrypt the content of our disk drives ‘on-the-fly’ so other will not be able to read them even if they managed to get the files.
Protecting our banking account might be done by putting some limit on money transfer transactions from the internet.
The most important means is to keep the computer clean. Use firewall, antivirus and Cyber-Dome’s “Magen” to keep your computer Malware-free. Be aware of ‘social engineering’ means try to tempt you to click “Clik2Infect” buttons or links.
These means will retain your compute hygiene and reduce the chance of you or your loved ones becoming a victim of cyber crime.