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Cell Phone Hacking; Is Someone Listening?

August 21st, 2008 by Andreas Xavier in Cell Phones, Phone numbers, Privacy Online. Topics:

Your cell phone connects you to the world, but your cell phone could also be giving anyone from your boss, your spouse or a complete stranger a window into your every move. The same technology that lets you stay in touch on-the-go can now let others tap into your private world — without you ever even suspecting something is awry.

Latest Tools

Long gone are the days of simple wiretapping, when the worst your phone could do was let someone listen in to your conversations. The new generation of cell phone spying tools provides a lot more power.

Eavesdropping is easy. All it takes is a two-minute software install and someone can record your calls and monitor your text messages. They can even set up systems to be automatically alerted when you dial a certain number, then instantly patched into your conversation. Anyone who can perform a basic internet search can find the tools and figure out how to do it in no time.

But the scarier stuff is what your phone can do when you aren’t even using it.

Surveillance via your phone

You don’t have to plant a CIA-style bug to conduct surveillance any more. There are companies that let you use data from cell phone towers and GPS systems to pinpoint anyone’s exact whereabouts, any time — as long as they’ve got their phone on them.

All you have to do is log on to the web site and enter the target phone number. The site sends a single text message to the phone that requires one response for confirmation. Once the response is sent, you are locked in to their location and can track them step-by-step. The response is only required the first time the phone is contacted, so you can imagine how easily it could be handled without the phone’s owner even knowing.

Once connected, the service shows you the exact location of the phone by the minute, conveniently pinpointed on a Google Map. So far, the service is only available in the UK, but the company has indicated plans to expand its service to other countries soon.

Technology can let them listen in!

So you’ve figured out where someone is, but now you want to know what they’re actually doing. Turns out you can listen in, even if they aren’t talking on their phone.

Dozens of programs are available that’ll turn any cell phone into a high-tech, long-range listening device. Even scarier they run virtually undetectable to the average person.

There are programs that promise to let you “catch cheating wives or cheating husbands” and even “bug meeting rooms.” Its tools use a cell phone’s microphone to let you hear essentially any conversation within earshot. Once the program is installed, all you have to do is dial a number to tap into the phone’s mic and hear everything going on. The phone won’t even ring, and its owner will have no idea you are virtually there at his side.

Legal loopholes

You might be asking how this could possibly be legal. Turns out, it isn’t – at least, not in the ways we just described. The software itself gets by because of a disclaimer saying it doesn’t endorse any ‘illegal use’.

Let me make it easier for you: Once you get into listening in to private conversations without either party’s consent, you’re treading rough water that could sweep you straight into jail. Whether it’s an employee or a spouse on the receiving end, neither federal nor state privacy laws take violations lightly. Getting caught could cost you several years behind bars, among other serious penalties.

How to find out and protect yourself

Today’s cell phones operate as small computers. Finding spyware on your phone isn’t easy. There are dozens of Bug Detectors available from Investigative Companies, another possible fix is taking your phone to your provider and having them wipe it out altogether. That will restore the factory settings and clear out any hidden software that’s running on your phone.

There are some subtle signs your phone may be invaded:

-You seem to have trouble shutting it off, or it stays lit up after you’ve powered down.

-The phone sometimes lights up when you aren’t making or receiving a call, or using any other function.

-You regularly hear odd background noises or clicks when you’re on the phone.

The True Bluetooth Security Nightmare!

It seems that if Bluetooth is switched on your cell phone, anyone can connect to it – both computers and other cell phones. It’s like leaving your IP address on the internet.

Bluetooth is a wireless technology that allows local devices to create a small network through which information can be passed. When it comes to cell phones, this information usually consists of addresses and small files. Unfortunately, if the Bluetooth settings are not correctly applied, an attacker can retrieve the address book, call history, and more from a target phone. In addition, viruses have been seen out there that have been able to reproduce over the Bluetooth connection.

Other problems like “bluejacking,” “bluebugging” and “Car Whisperer” have turned up as Bluetooth-specific security issues. Bluejacking involves Bluetooth users sending a business card (just a text message, really) to other Bluetooth users within a 10-meter (32-foot) radius. If the user doesn’t realize what the message is, he might allow the contact to be added to his address book, and the contact can send him messages that might be automatically opened because they’re coming from a known contact. Bluebugging is more of a problem, because it allows hackers to remotely access a user’s phone and use its features, including placing calls and sending text messages, and the user doesn’t realize its happening. The Car Whisperer is a piece of software that allows hackers to send audio to and receive audio from a Bluetooth-enabled car stereo. Like a computer security hole, these vulnerabilities are an inevitable result of technological innovation, and device manufacturers are releasing firmware upgrades that address new problems as they arise.

The best way to deal with this is to switch off Bluetooth when you are not using it or simply not use Bluetooth technology until independent security programs are commercially available specific to Bluetooth technology.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do to safeguard your cell just yet. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time until we see McAfee-style programs to firewall your phone/Bluetooth devices and keep intruders out. For now, though, the only sure-fire form of protection is to keep a close guard on your phone. Don’t accept Bluetooth connections unless you know what they are. Most important, make sure no one has access to install something when you aren’t watching and switch off your Bluetooth when you are not using it.

Who is listening??

Lastly, eavesdroppers, thieves and hackers are all out there — but you can prevent them from accessing your secrets. One morning, while stopping in at a coffee shop I found myself about 10th person in line. The guy in front of me was on his cell phone, his voice booming all over the crowded shop as he ordered last-minute gifts.

By the time he reached the counter, he’d clearly recited his name, full address, credit card number and the card’s security verification code — twice. After paying for his order, he launched into a third call, sharing the same details.

It’s hard to say whether his credit-card account was in more jeopardy from some distant wireless eavesdropper — or from the laptop-equipped customers at the next table who might well have been quietly typing down the information as he repeated it.

Either way, it illustrates a hard fact about cell phone security: Your safest strategy is to assume that you have unwanted listeners. Chances are that you don’t. But when it comes to confidential information your best bet is to conduct yourself as if you do.

About the author

Roland E. Georgi is the owner of OhioPrivateEye.com / Resolution Assurance Group in Ohio.

About the author
Andreas co-founded Xavier Media® in 1996 and has since been involved in all kinds of development, marketing and making money online.


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