Editorial: Is your cell phone spying on you?
Are there spies lurking in your cell phone, watching your every move? It's not much of an exaggeration. It's happening with some of the popular apps that are out there. Consider the free apps that allow you to use your cell phone as a flashlight,...
Are there spies lurking in your cell phone, watching your every move?
It’s not much of an exaggeration. It’s happening with some of the popular apps that are out there.
Consider the free apps that allow you to use your cell phone as a flashlight, for instance. Security experts say that by installing it, consumers are opening a doorway for companies to spy on them.
“Most free flashlight apps are creepware,” says Gary S. Miliefsky, a founding member of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and CEO of SnoopWall, a company that specializes in cybersecurity. Creepware is malware that spies on you and your online behavior, and could pass along information to others, he explained.
For example, Goldenshores Technologies, the company behind the popular “Brightest Flashlight Free” app for Android phones, agreed in 2013 to settle the Federal Trade Commission’s charges that the software secretly supplied cellphone locations to advertising networks and other third parties.
Miliefsky notes that many seemingly innocuous apps that people carry around with them on their mobile devices have the capability to eavesdrop on their activities. “Consumers trust first and verify never,” he said. “As a result, most of their smartphones are infected with malware that they trust in the form of some kind of useful app or game.”
Miliefsky offers these tips for ousting those spies inside your phone:
n First, assume you’ve already been compromised. It’s nice to think all is probably well, but most likely it’s not. Somewhere in the phone the spies are at work and it’s time to take the privacy behaviors and privacy policies of these apps more seriously.
n Verify the behavior and privacy risks for apps before installing them. Do some research and ask the question: “Why does this app need GPS, microphone, webcam, contacts, etc.?” Most apps don’t need these ports unless they want to invade your privacy, Miliefsky says. Find an alternative before installing risky apps.
n Do a smartphone version of spring cleaning. Delete all the apps you don’t use that often. Replace the apps that take advantage of too many of your privacy settings, such as GPS, phone and text-message logs, with similar apps that don’t.
n Turn off WiFi, Bluetooth, Near Field Communication and GPS except when you need them. That way, Miliefsky says, if you are at a local coffee shop or in a shopping mall, no one can spy using nearby (proximity) hacking attacks. They also can’t track where you were and where you are going on GPS.
n Check to see if your email has put a tracer on you and your phone. “If you use a Google email account and have an Android phone, you’d be surprised that even with your GPS off, it’s tracking your every move,” Miliefsky says. You need to go into the phone’s settings to turn off that tracking feature, he says. In your Android phone, go to “settings,” then “location.” Select “Google location reporting” and set “location history” to off.
Those who value their privacy should consider heeding these tips, and giving the hackers and the spies the slip.
Alexandria Echo Press