Some friends have started to demand that before any conversation takes place, even when the chat is really about nothing but mundane and insignificant things, that all our mobile phones are not only switched off, but have their batteries removed too. Some go further by demanding that the offending instruments be placed outside of the vicinity of their gathering.
The claim, of course, is that someone somewhere could remotely activate a mobile phone’s microphone and listen in to a conversation without any outward sign that this is actually happening. I thought that this was a wee bit over the top and a James Bond gone completely mad syndrome. Or maybe, it’s the sign of the times in Bahrain, where trust seems to have been completely and utterly eradicated and people are reportedly afraid of being fingered, owing to the continuous arrests and perceived witch hunts taking place. Unfortunately, people are said to have become afraid of voicing even harmless comments, or get terrified due to unfortunate verbal outbursts said even in privacy when sometimes one’s passion overcomes reason. Hence the insistence on disabling mobile phones before any conversation could take place.
I decided to find out if there was any merit to those claims.
I am absolutely shocked to have found out that that this has been going on for some time and the fears of remotely activating various features of mobile phones quite substantiated. The first article I came across set the tone quite adequately:
FBI taps cell phone mic as eavesdropping tool
The FBI appears to have begun using a novel form of electronic surveillance in criminal investigations: remotely activating a mobile phone’s microphone and using it to eavesdrop on nearby conversations.
The technique is called a “roving bug,” and was approved by top U.S. Department of Justice officials for use against members of a New York organized crime family who were wary of conventional surveillance techniques such as tailing a suspect or wiretapping him.
Read more on cnet News
Damn! And this has happened in the States six years ago! Can you imagine the state of that technology now with the huge advances in modern and relatively cheaply available mobile phones like the iPhone and the Blackberry? I bet the tools available now will not only be stealthy that one would never know that they’re actually installed on handsets, but also be able to transmit the full gamut of the phone’s features, including address books, text messages, installed apps stored data, audio, location information and even video too!
I decided to see how available such applications are. Another quick search resulted in quite a number of readily available applications. These include apps which turn your phone to a mobile and undetectable security camera while another much more pernicious and invasive application which turns your phone into a remote and an undetectable microphone as well as enable call logging, call interception, email relay amongst many other functions limited only by the actual capabilities of the mobile phone.
Are you scared yet?
You should be.
There are ways in which you can probably detect that your phone has been tampered with or monitored, but it will probably take an expert in the field to really find out if it has. It apparently only takes minutes to install an app if it’s off the shelf, but that’s not the only way to ingest such code though. Home brewed applications from the hacking world have many more methods to invade your phone without you ever clicking on to your own culpability in helping such an invasion to happen. One can’t be too careful, really. So, until you have access to an expert to go over and test your phone for an infection, here are some tell-tale signs that your phone might have been bugged:
- You have noticed strange sounds or volume changes on your phone lines.
- You have noticed static, popping, or scratching on your phone lines.
- Sounds are coming from your phone’s handset when it’s hung up.
- Your phone often rings and nobody is there, or a very faint tone, or high pitched squeal or beep is heard for a fraction of a second.
Click here for more.
Maybe a good piece of advice might be to stick to an old brick of a phone with minimum functionality if one really wants security; however, even then one can be pin-pointed to within five meters of their location by the telco using simple triangulation methods.
There is really no escape…
But I’m offering my iPhone 4 for immediate sale… any takers?
Update 110421@1223 The plot thickens, the Guardian has an article detailing how the iPhone on iOS4 records locations in a secret little file and someone’s written an application to not only extract that file, but show you directly where you have been with your nice little iPhone on a world map with dates too. The iPhone (and other smart phones) are God’s gift to security agencies the world over!