Defense Against Crime

November 24, 2009

Are you being stalked?

Filed under: Crime Prevention — Onyx Knight @ 14:06
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Is someone following you?

Is someone listening in on your cell phone conversation or reading your text message?

Could someone could be stalking you  through your cell phone?

Spying on someone is nothing new, even since Old Testament biblical times, snooping people, has been used to gather information on.  Today, however spies use electronic devices like bugs, microphones and cameras to listen to and watch unsuspecting targets.

With the miniaturization of electronics in the past few decades, this has enabled these devices to be extremely small and well hidden. The mass production of these devices have made them so affordable that spy electronics available to anyone, from concerned parents using a nanny cam, or a jealous ex-boyfriend, a suspecting spouse,  or a stranger who wants to stalk you. The only remaining challenge is placement: If anyone wants to capture the juicy tidbits of your life, they’ve got to have a microphone or camera in the right place at the right time. While you never know about that hotel room your in, what about your home, or your cell phone.

The modern cell phone has become the indispensible Swiss Army knife of our generation, and the new tool of espionage for a new breed of spies called “cell phone stalkers.”  These stalkers don’t need to be super high-tech geek types at all.  Anyone can do it, if they are knowledgeable in operating a phone.

Many of the new everything cell phones or smart phones include all the necessary ingredients for completely invasive stalking: a microphone, camera, personal data on the user, location information or GPS tracking, a chat and call history — you name it. The spyware can be installed on any Internet-based phone such as a  Blackberry, Iphone, etc. Depending on the software and the phone, sometimes you can listen in on phone conversations, sometimes you just hear everything through a speaker. Since their owners carry them everywhere the go,  cell phone stalkers know everything they need to know. Where you are, and what your talking bout. Think about how much information you give out over the phone.

By now your thinking about your cell phone and asking how can they do this? There is the software (computer program) that allows these stalkers to take unsuspecting control of your cell phone. This new software, is called snoopware, and it does just that.

Snoopware — both legal and illegal — enables stalkers to secretly seize control of a phone’s electronics to listen, watch and spy on their victims. Just like spyware on your computer allows a remote user to see what your doing on your computer and perhaps capture your passwords, without you knowing.

Now your really looking at your cell phone by now. So let me clear some stuff up and give you some facts. Just like lock bumping, cell phone stalking is new and there is lots of information and misinformation about it. I will also tell you just like there is an antidote for computer spyware, there is also one to protect you from cell phone stalking. 

In one example, a combination of spoofing one of the family’s cell phone’s Caller ID, which is easy to do, and using that trick to retrieve voice mail, plus possibly hacking the carrier’s Web site to change ringtones and cause other mischief. These steps, combined with old-fashioned binocular spying on the family in person, could explain nearly all the cell phone hacking claims.

Hacked? Yes. Disturbing? Very. Illegal? Absolutely. But it’s easy for the media to take these facts and blow them out of proportion to, as some have done.

Electronics experts interviewed on TV and in the newspapers answer “yes” to the question, “Is this kind of hack possible?” And, in fact, it is possible, but spectacularly unlikely and improbable.

To pull of such a feat to hack the victim’s phone as described , the victim would have to repeatedly buy high-end camera phones, such as Windows Mobile, BlackBerry, Apple Iphone or other devices, leave Java support on, keep Bluetooth on and in “auto discovery” mode, or give the hacker full physical access to the phones to install several snoopware applications. Someone who wants to borrow your phone to make an emergency call, may just be leaving you a unwanted present.

So what can these programs really do? Just like computer viruses, Snoop ware is on the rise, mostly because of the increasing sophistication of phones, and some misguided programmer who wants to impress his colleagues. In reality these phone have become mini-Personal Computers.  According to research, most of the snoopware attacks have taken place in Europe and Asia, but are starting to spread across the United States.

In independent testing with a test subject called Jenna, some snoopware, and a Blackberry we found that a stalker would know every time Jenna uses her Blackberry.

So when Jenna texted her friend Heather: “meet me at the Northtowne Mall near Belk’s after work”… The “stalker” could be sitting outside in his car with a laptop computer that notifies him of her texts and calls.

That’s because the stalker gets the message, too.

 The stalker also knows Jenna will meet her friend Heather. He knows where they are going and when?, and  Jenna has no idea. Using the snoopware software, the stalker could follow Jenna everywhere.

Experts say spyware is most often being used in stalking situations, domestic cases (cheating spouses or monitoring your kids) and to steal someone’s identity.

Some Security experts have estimated that there are more than 400 different types of snoopware (most of them variants of a few major snoopware programs), and that figure may top 1,000 by the end of 2009. These new snoopware programs might enable someone to listen to phone calls and read e-mail and text messages, or steal contacts and other data. Some of these snoopware programs can use your phone’s microphone to listen, even when the phone is supposedly “off.” Other programs can capture images from a camera phone’s camera. 

Legally, snoopware is the kind of software used by the government intelligence agencies to eavesdrop on criminals and terrorists groups. Illegally they can also be used by criminals to spy on you, me and other potential targets.

However, snoopware it’s the only way to snoop. Several cell phone carriers offer a “skip passcode” feature that lets you turn off voice mail password-checking when you call from your cell phone. But because carriers use Caller ID to verify the phone, cell phones “spoofing” another phone’s number can get in, enabling hackers to access your voice mail and other features without ever knowing your password.

Additionally there is a Semi-legitimate programs called Mobile Spy from Retina-X Studios and FlexiSpy from Vervata run invisibly and upload text messages and phone logs to an online server. They can also upload your location information. Mobil Spy runs only on Windows Mobile phones, while FlexiSpy offers versions for Series 60 Nokia phones, BlackBerry and Windows Mobile phones. A Pro version of FlexiSpy enables eavesdropping through cell phone microphones when you call a dedicated phone number. A future Pro-X version will let you listen in on calls in progress. The companies target concerned parents, suspicious spouses and distrustful bosses, but obviously a malicious hacker could use them for cell phone stalking.

Do I have your attention now? Even though this sounds like bad news don’t throw away your cell phone just yet. The programs that I just mentioned require physical access to the phone for installation, and they’re easy to detect. The security software companies generally consider these applications as malware, and alert users to their presence.  As for how to tell you might have spyware on your phone?  It’s hard to do figure out.  Most experts  say there are no real telling signs.  A few subtle things are if your battery is draining faster than normal, there are unusual spikes in your usage bill or you see the screen flash every once in a while.

So what tools are available to you?

Just like to have to take security measures to protect your home, your identity and your self, You  have to take measure to protect any device that has sensitive data that you don’t want a strange to have access to. Having a cell phones with Internet access are really like computers without firewalls or security sweeps.  Because of that, it’s relatively easy for someone to install spyware on your phone without you knowing it.  The only requirement is they have your phone in their possession for about 30 minutes. Treat your cell phone like your ATM card and Pin number. Don’t allow people you don’t know or trust to gain access to your cell phone. Like any other kind of software, snoopware doesn’t install itself. The leading methods for installation are physical access installation, where the user installs by clicking on an attachment or link; or via a Bluetooth device. By preventing potential stalkers from touching your phone, never clicking on e-mail attachments or links from strangers, and turning off the Bluetooth autodiscovery feature , you can  keep snoopware off your phone. The fact is, snoopware  hacks are dangerous only if you’re unaware of them. Once you suspect someone is using your cell phone to spy on you, it’s trivially easy to stop them.

Here are some addition things you can do

  1. Buy an anti-malware/spyware application from vendors like Symantec, McAfee, Trend Micro, F-Secure, SMobile, MyMobiSafe and others. These products find not just the shadowy, hacker snoopware programs, but the legal ones, too.
  2. Put a password or passcode on your cell phone easy to prevent access. Just like you secure your residence, you need to lock you phone
  3. Keep track of where you phone is – treat it the same way you do your wallet and Credit cards.
  4. Turn on passwords for voice mail access. Do you have to enter a password each time you check voice mail? If not, your carrier has enabled the “skip passcode” feature. A stalker spoofing your Caller ID can check your voice mail, too. But by re-enabling a good password, it will be much easier to keep your voice mail private.
  5. Be careful of the apps you install – This is the same way computers get infected. Do not assume just because you’re downloading an application from an online store that has 70-to-80-thousand apps, that all these apps have been thoroughly analyzed to assure they don’t contain spyware. There are cites like C-Net, and Z-net that do can their shareware programs.
  6. Downgrade your cell phone. Snoopware works only on the most advanced phones. For nontechnical users, and those who don’t need all of these features, one simple solution is to swap out your high-end phone for a less expensive model that doesn’t support Java or Bluetooth and doesn’t have a camera. This isn’t a good solution for gadget fans, but for any who becomes a stalking victim, this is a cheap, fast and easy way to get control.
  7. Switch carriers. There’s not much you can do at the handset level to foil a hack of the carrier’s Web site. If the company can’t shut down the hacker, switch to another carrier.
  8. Buy an anonymous prepaid phone. The last-ditch solution (just before going without a cell phone) is to buy a prepaid phone from 7-Eleven or a similar store. This provides not only the benefits of a low-tech cell phone and a new carrier, but greater anonymity.

The cell phone stalker threat is real. But simple, common-sense preventive methods can protect you and your family from malicious harassment

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