Some Software Can Turn Mobile Devices Into Tools Of Espionage, Harassment

By Sonya Colberg
Published: October 12, 2009

Sneaky people and technology can turn your cell phone against you.

Cell phone spyware makes it easy for someone to eavesdrop on your conversations, intercept text messages and identify your location. And you may never know it’s happening, experts say.

“You are so dead,” an electronically altered voice taunted Courtney Kuykendall from her cell phone. Courtney’s mother, Heather, told a television station that someone used spyware to terrify her daughter with harassing calls that revealed the caller knew the teenager’s location, what she was wearing and saying.

“This type of issue is almost out of an outlandish sci-fi film. The reality is that there is no question about it, it is happening,” said Robert Siciliano, chief executive officer of Web site IDTheftSecurity.com.

Oklahoma private investigators say they’re getting many requests for listening in on private conversations. But Colin Pressley of Barrington Investigations LLC in Oklahoma City and Larry Mulinix of MPI Agency in Norman said they won’t touch it.

The private investigators said most requests revolve around trying to catch cheating spouses. Other popular requests are from clients who want to ensure their phones contain no spyware.

In most instances, cell phone spyware is illegal, said FBI spokesman Gary Johnson.

The Internet contains numerous ads for cell phone spyware, with software ranging from several hundred dollars to $69.95. Ads contain claims and testimonials such as: “Catch that cheating spouse,” “I learned all I needed to know the very first night,” and “I could not believe what that boy was saying to my 13-year-old.”

Mulinix said some software creates GPS logs of where the target phone has gone. Someone can sit at home and map the phone’s location.

“If I get hold of your phone I can install this, like a SIM chip, open the door up and put this in there, and I can monitor you,” he said. “You won’t even know it.”

The investigators say they stick with legal surveillance techniques.

“You get a lot of people that call up and just want to monitor their wife or spouse. A lot of times I spend hours watching a guy late at night while I’m out there (in the car) drinking Dr Peppers and eating Twinkies,” Mulinix said. “There’s a lot of boredom interrupted by terror.”

Average people can face nearly as much terror from Internet ads that harangue viewers to buy instant downloads. Some boast that, in just minutes, downloaded spyware can begin intercepting text messages and sending text messages notifying the spy every time the target phone makes or receives calls so the spy can listen in on the phone calls.

“Until now, the most bad guys could get are phone lists and the like,” said Sujeet Shenoi, computer science professor at the University of Tulsa, “which would be fine for the National Enquirer getting Paris Hilton’s phone number.”

The celebrity became a victim of cell phone trickery in 2005. T-Mobile and the FBI reportedly launched an investigation after the contents of Hilton’s cell phone appeared online. Numbers and e-mail addresses of celebrity buddies such as Lindsay Lohan and Ashlee Simpson were apparently hacked from her cell phone.

“You’re going to see more people reveal themselves in ugly ways. Right now they’re doing it for fun. They’re doing it for stalking and harassment. And as time goes on, you’re going to see it being used more for financial gain,” Shenoi said.

Courtney Kuykendall, the Tacoma, Wash., resident whose daughter was harassed by someone using spyware, said the calls stopped last summer without police finding a suspect. She said she would like to raise people’s awareness that spyware can be used to terrify.

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SpywareA recent study indicated that one out of every 63 smart phones powered by a common operating system, Symbian, were infected with spyware or malware, a disruptive program or software. However, experts say you can take measures to help keep your cell phone safe.
Staying safe

Some examples of anti-spyware that work on most cell phones include Spybot Search and Destroy, and SMobile Anti-Theft and Identity Protection. Other suggestions include:→ Inconspicuously mark your SIM card with a scrape or initial.

→ Before meetings, remove batteries from cell phones.

→ Avoid reading texts or accepting pictures from someone you don’t know and trust.

Most secure

“Nothing can really be safe,” said University of Tulsa computer science professor Sujeet Shenoi. He said the most secure way of making a phone call is to use a landline.

Posted on October 15, 2009, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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