Your Mobile Phone Could be Spying on You

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You might say you feel naked without your ever-reliable, multi-function smartphone. But do you know that just by having your mobile phone in the same room while you get dressed or share intimate moments with your partner, another person halfway across the globe can literally see you naked?

In a scenario seemingly straight out of a James Bond movie, experts warn that smartphones infected with mobile malware have potent espionage capabilities, including allowing an attacker to keep tabs on your whereabouts, read and store your incoming and outgoing text messages, and eavesdrop on your conversations even if you're not using the phone. The mobile malware even activates the unit's microphone and video camera, allowing an attacker to watch and record everything you say or do.

Researchers from George Mason University Ryan Farley and Xinyuan Wang published a paper discussing a "modernized mic hijacker" that utilizes a roving bugnet which unscrupulous individuals can manipulate to eavesdrop on other people's private conversations. This type of malware or bugbot can be used on either smartphones or laptops and burrows itself deep into the unit's operating system.

Actually, it's not only recently that the mobile world was rocked by reports of smartphones being used for sinister purposes. Several years ago, reports already surfaced about surveillance software or mobile malware that can be downloaded from the Internet to turn your phone into a virtual long-range spying device.

Experts say mobile malware is on the rise, a problem that is likely to get worse in the next few years as the number of smartphone users further increase. It is estimated that 6 million out of 200 million cell phones in the U.S. are infected. The availability of 3G and Wi-Fi connectivity and multi-gigabyte storage are other factors contributing to the increase of mobile malware infection.

According to security experts, this mobile malware, increasingly being used by husbands or wives who suspect their partners of having an affair, or by worried parents of party-loving teens, thrive on all types of smartphones such as iPhones and BlackBerrys.

While spouses and parents find the Big Brother element empowering, shady personalities can exploit it to blackmail a phone user into paying obscene amounts of money in exchange for the former's silence about potentially damaging information.

From simple surveillance (tracking your whereabouts through GPS) to advanced eavesdropping and monitoring, your mobile phone becomes a portal into your inner sanctum. It's as if the town's most notorious gossip is wearing Harry Potter's invisible cloak and then following you everywhere. And the worst part is that, you are clueless about what's going on!

How do you know if your phone is infected with spyware?

Mobile malware works behind the scenes. You may not realize that your phone has already sent considerable damning data to attackers. According to experts, however, there are certain tell-tale signs that you should watch out for.

1. Your phone's battery drains easily even if you seldom use it.
2. You have difficulty turning off the unit, or it stays lit up even if it's already supposed to be powered down.
3. The phone lights up even when there are no incoming text messages or calls. If you see the red light flashing twice, it could be an indication that the unit is busy transmitting data to a third party.
4. You can hear strange background noises or clicks while using the phone.

What you can do to protect your smartphone from infection

1. Be wary of downloading ringtones from the Internet as such files can carry mobile malware. The same thing is true when opening emails containing suspicious attachments.
2. Security vendors such as Kaspersky, McAfee, and Symantec offer protection tools against mobile malware.
3. Don't leave your phone unattended in public places.
4. Use the free and downloadable mobile security tool Lookout to block snoops, back up your mobile data, and/or wipe out clean a stolen phone.

Leonor Albino writes for Schooley Mitchell Telecom Consultants, North America's largest independent telecom consulting company.

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