As we all continue to increase our personal and professional reliance on portable devices, we need to remember that “big brother” and most of the “bad guys” continue to “raise the technical bar” on what digital information they can gather with little to no effort. A great example is Tel Aviv-based Rayzone Group that is now offering a gadget called InterApp that can intercept and extract information from nearby smartphones.
According to the company, InterApp can easily the device can launch hundreds of simultaneous attacks, without leaving forensic traces on the compromised moible devices and extract email address’s and passwords, contact lists, Dropbox information, photos, internet history, locations, and much more. InterApp is fully transparent to the target phone and does not require any cooperation from the phone owner. The only required condition is that the WIFI transmitter of the mobile device be open.
The legal issues involved in “cyber attacks” and information extraction apps such as InterApp are not as clear you might think.
The sale of mobile phone spying software
In the US and in many other countries, the sale of mobile phone spying software is legal. This is because companies providing mobile phone spying software always add a disclaimer stating that it is the responsibility of the user to ensure that he/she complies with all applicable laws. For example, a part of the disclaimer of Mobile-Spy reads as follows:
“It is a federal and state offense in most countries to install monitoring/surveillance software onto a phone which you do not own or have proper authorization to install. It may also be an offense in your jurisdiction to monitor the activities of other individuals. Check all state, federal and local laws before installing any Cell Phone Spy Software such as Mobile Spy. You must always notify a person they are being monitored if they are over age 18. Federal or local law governs the use of some types of software; it is responsibility of the user to follow such laws.”
Basically, all companies say that the buyers of their software are solely responsible for complying with the applicable laws. In reality, many people will ignore the law and use this software for unlawful purposes. So, while the sale of mobile phone spying software is completely legal, it certainly raises moral concerns.
Companies selling such software know that many buyers will use it illegally. It is difficult to believe that someone who wants to know whether or not his spouse is cheating on him will ask her for permission to install mobile phone spying software on her phone. Nevertheless, many providers of this software advertise their product as a means to catch a cheating spouse.
The use of mobile phone spying software
As long as the user complies with the applicable laws, there is nothing illegal in the use of mobile phone spying software. However, the illegal use of such software may have harsh consequences for the person violating the laws. US federal law allows recording of phone calls and other electronic communications with the consent of at least one party to the call, and a majority of states and territories have adopted laws based on the federal standard. It should be noted, however, that twelve states require the consent of all parties to the call under most circumstances. These twelve states are California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Washington. For more about the state and federal laws in the US, please look at the comprehensive guide to Electronic Surveillance Laws published by National Conference of State Legislatures, which is available at http://www.ncsl.org/issues-research/telecom/electronic-surveillance-laws.aspx.
In most countries, it is legal for parents to monitor the phones of their children since they are responsible for their children’s safety. With such software, parents have the opportunity to use an additional safety option in case they have problems with their children.
In the US, employers may generally monitor and even record their employees’ phone conversations with a few restrictions. In this regard, it is worth mentioning that the laws of California require that all parties of any conversation are informed that they are being recorded or monitored. The parties should be informed either by putting a beep tone on the line or playing a recorded message.
By tracking the cell phones of employees, the employer may not only receive information about the working habits of their employees, but also find out if there is leak of confidential information.
In the US and many other countries, monitoring of spouses without their permission is illegal. Moreover, the information obtained through illegal monitoring will not serve as evidence in a court of law. So, while knowledge typically is power, in this case it can be a limited power.
Symptoms indicating that mobile phone spying software has been installed on a phone
The following four symptoms indicate that spying software has been installed on a mobile phone: (1) unusually high bill, (2) battery drain, (3) shut down problems, and (4) appearance of new icons. These symptoms are examined in detail below.
An unusually high bill for mobile phone services may be a result of the numerous connections required by spying software for the transfer of secretly recorded data. Battery exhaustion can also be caused by the continuous running of the software, as it will always be active in the background to be able to record events such as incoming/outgoing messages, call history, and GPS location. This background activity often causes problems when a person attempts to shut his/her mobile phone. New icons may appear because the operation of mobile phone spying software requires data connection.
It is a widely spread myth that, if a phone call is monitored, the participants in the call should hear a noise. In this regard, it should be pointed out that, normally, spying software emits no audible sounds. Such software works in complete stealth mode without leaving any kind of trace behind. Without expert advice, the person, whose phone is being spied on, will never detect the spying software that’s installed on his/her cell phone.
In case a person thinks that mobile spying software may be installed on his phone, the best he/she can do is to request from the seller of the phone to restore it to factory settings and clear out any hidden software installed in it. If mobile spying software is found to be illegally installed on a person’s phone, that person should immediately notify his/her local law enforcement officials.
Mobile device monitoring software like InterApp is getting more sophisticated all the time. And, although there are some legal parameters is place to restrict the use of this software, there is nothing stopping individuals that don’t “care about laws” from extracting whatever information that they want. So, in the end, everyone with a portable device needs to be aware of the dangers, both legal and illegal, and then make decisions about what information they carry around on their devices. Unfortunately for most of us, that information is basically all of our information.
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