Once upon a time, if you told someone you thought your television was watching you, you’d probably be prescribed medication or even sectioned. These days, however, being paranoid is occasionally something entirely called for. In this blog we’ll be looking at the vulnerabilities of your mobile smartphone.

Electronic spying is now not only the domain of the Secret Services but Internet Service Providers and Black Hat hackers alike. Still, you may not realise how easy it is for just about anyone to spy on you by using your mobile phone. A suspicious spouse, jealous ex-partner, employer, worried parent, financial predator – the list of potential spies could be endless. There are multiple types of apps that can turn your phone into a mobile recording studio for someone else’s benefit.

  1. Every picture tells a story
    Digital photographs are tagged with EXIF files which contain helpful information for photographers, such as focal settings for the shot. These can be extended to also include the photographer name or copyright information. However, it is fairly common to have photos stamped with geo-location data too, so anyone who can access your phone’s pictures may know where you’ve been. Facial recognition software is also now routinely used to tag and identify people in private photographs.
  2. Tracking your position and movements
    Mobile phones routinely establish links to geographic ‘cells’ to maintain communications, giving your mobile provider a log of where you’ve been. Both Google and Apple keep track of your popular locations, the latter using the Cloud to store the data. If you can map the route of your marathon or cycling run and if you can locate a missing phone – then so can anyone else with the right software.
  3. Camera jacking
    Is it possible to hijack your phone camera and spy on you visually? It is a “mere technicality”, claims researcher Szymon Sidor. He discovered that although it can’t be done without a review screen which would potentially alert the user, this review screen can in fact be made to be only one pixel in size. This means that not only would you struggle to see it, even if you knew where to look, but it would enable your camera to become an instant window into your life.
  4. Eavesdropping
    It is a matter of routine for some people to track their family and to be able to locate their own phone if it goes missing, but for anyone with a smattering of technical knowledge it is remarkably simple to actually listen in on someone else’s smartphone microphone. This can be done even when there is no ongoing call, when the phone is on your desk or tucked inside your handbag. There are now companies doing this with shopping tracking software, using hidden background tones in stores or matching background noise to known television adverts.
  5. Mail snooping
    Many people are unaware that it is possible for software to send a person’s e-mails to more than one IP address; a technique that can be used to spy on your e-mail messages. Those of us who send e-mails saying “This was sent from my phone” are adding another level of risk to our online privacy.

How do I protect my phone from being used to spy on me?
These are some handy tips on how to safeguard your mobile from unwanted privacy breaches.

  • Lock your phone when not in use – and make sure you know where it is at all times.
  • Keep your Google Play and Apple accounts tightly secured so nobody else can install apps on your phone without going through a two-step verification.
  • Change your passwords regularly.
  • Keep an eye on battery consumption. Even a warm phone might indicate unusual use.
  • Check services running in the background to see if anything is hogging the phone’s processing capacity.
  • Check if your phone is active when not in use. Is it randomly rebooting or making unusual noises?
  • Monitor data usage and look for increases in traffic.
  • Check for recent app downloads you did not initiate.
  • Keep your operating system upgraded as this can override any jailbreaks that might be needed to install rogue software.
  • Install anti-spyware such as Anti Spy Mobile, which will scan your phone for you and get rid of anything suspicious.
  • Advanced users can use a secondary router and packet-sniffing technology to determine if their mail is going to more than one address.

As worrying as some of these risks may be for an individual, they can also be a concern on a business or community wide level. As organisations, we should stay aware of how key information may leak out – be it from a laptop, a server or a mobile phone.

Stay safe!