Modern cell-phones are extremely convenient, providing timely access to the web of things in tandem with basic communications capabilities. But the convenience of these devices are overshadowed by the security issues intrinsic to their functionality. Malicious apps can steal user information with ease, and the phone properties (such as an onboard GPS, cell-tower signaling) comprise a metaphorical ‘double-edged sword’ that may work against the privacy concerns of the individual.
While it is no surprise that each smart-phone can convey the user’s location at any given moment, the question of who or what is keeping tabs on the cell locations may stir up concern (any stranger with access to certain applications, the NSA, GCHQ, etc.).
Phone-Number Mediated Tracking
Many applications and services on the market afford a customer the capability of tracking any cell-phone given he/she possesses the phone number. This means that all that is required for a stranger to engage in malicious tracking of your phone is your phone number. Once someone has that, a simple demo or full subscription to a service like life360.com will allow them to pinpoint your location via your smart-phone.
Malicious App-Mediated Tracking
There are a number of malicious applications and services that advertise cell-tracking, some even go so far as to provide ‘espionage’ services that, when installed on the targets phone, will convey cell-location, text messages, phone call history, and pretty much anything else. Hoverwatch is one such app that, when installed on the target’s phone, will supply a comprehensive overview of the cell-user’s activity – including browsing history, social media interactions, SIM card monitoring, and records of phone-calls along with call content.
With a system-backup and recovery app called DDI Utilities, a would-be ‘spy’ can pretend he/she owns your phone and download all pertinent information including videos, photographs, messages, etc.
For your security, it must be noted that installation of any application carries risk of infection with various spyware and malware (be weary of what you use).
Remote Activation of Smart-Phone Microphone and Camera
Yes, it is totally feasible to hijack the on-board properties of a smart-phone including the microphone and camera. The NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden expounded in an interview with Panorama in Russia on the nature of spy tools known as ‘smurfs’: “Nosey Smurf is the ‘hot mic’ tool can turn the microphone on and listen to everything that’s going on around you – even if your phone is switched off because they’ve got the other tools for turning it on.”
Other ‘smurfs’ such as “tracker smurf” and “dreamy smurf” can track your location and turn your phone on, respectively.
Using Your Own Smart-Phone as a Spy-Tool
Thus far we have covered how your own phone can be used against you, but with other applications, you can turn your own phone into a spy-tool to your benefit. For example, with an inactivated smart-phone that has been loaded with certain applications, a user can requisition the device as a portable microphone or camera for home surveillance. Just be sure to have a method of storing all the acquired data.
Be aware of the benefits and risks to your security in carrying a smart-phone. As IT continues to develop, there are sure to be increases in how your devices can be exploited for malicious purposes, whether committed by governments or criminals.