Tuesday, October 7, 2014
Stalker Apps - the first arrest
In a blog I wrote four years ago titled “I can spy on your mobile and read your SMS”, I highlighted the fast growing mobile spyware product market producing stalker apps which monitor a victims’ phone calls, text messages, videos, emails and other communications "without detection" when installed on a target's phone. These apps were advertised as solutions to keep track of cheating spouses and to monitor the online activities of children. Obviously, there are a variety of nefarious ways stalkers, domestic abusers, cybercriminals, private detectives, and inquisitive colleagues can use the app for; such as corporate espionage, snooping on the private lives, and monitoring employees – all without the victims’ knowledge.Use of these apps violates laws which mandate that any surveillance on individuals has to be done with a court approval and by law enforcement. Over the last four years, these applications have become even more sophisticated with features that send alerts when a mobile phone crosses a certain geographic boundaries, records and forwards incoming and outgoing calls, forwards messages based on keyword triggers and even allows remote activation of the app in order to monitor all surrounding conversations within a 15-foot radius. These apps are available for all versions of mobile operating systems and messaging application such as SMS, WhatsApp and Email. The very fact that there are atleast four companies subsisting through online sales indicates that there is a thriving market place for these apps.
In what is a first, a US District court has arrested the founder of one such company and charged him with conspiracy, sale of a surreptitious interception device, advertisement of a known interception device and advertising a device as a surreptitious interception device.While this is in itself is a positive development, much more activism is required from the judiciary and law enforcement to take cognizance of the many ways individual privacy can be compromised online using surreptitious devices or by misusing personal information without consent.