Breaking News

How your smartphone can be used to spy on you

#crypto #bitcoin

In this article, you will learn how your smartphone can be used to spy on you and what you can do about it.

You are being watched

When NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden showed the world how intelligence agencies are spying on their citizens in 2013, it became clear that “everyone” is being watched. Regardless of whether you are on a terrorist watch list or a model citizen, chances are that your data is being collected.

In an interview on the Joe Rogan Experience on October 23, 2019, Snowden said:

“The big thing that has changed since 2013 is now it’s mobile-first everything. Mobile was still a big deal and the intelligence community was very much grappling to get its hands around it and to deal with it. But now, people are less likely to use laptops, desktops or any kind of wired phone, then they are to use a smartphone. And both Apple and Android devices, unfortunately, are not especially good in protecting your privacy.”

Now, you may not mind that a national intelligence service collects your emails if you have nothing to hide, but you may not like the idea of corporations harvesting your data and selling it to third parties without your consent or remuneration. Unfortunately, that is exactly what a large number of technology companies are doing. The Cambridge Analytica scandal made that very clear.

3 ways your phone can spy on you

Now, let’s look at some ways your phone can be used to spy on you.

Your smartphone camera

When former FBI director James Comey was asked at a conference at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in 2016 whether he covers his laptop camera, he responded: “There’s some sensible things you should be doing, and that’s one of them.” Well, the same goes for your smartphone camera.

Malicious actors can gain access to your phone’s camera, switch it on, take pictures or record videos. In November 2019, Google confirmed that this was a risk for “hundreds of millions of smartphone users” after a flaw allowed hackers to gain access to Android phone cameras.

Moreover, hackers who are specifically targeting you will try to gain access to your camera by sending you emails or texts with a malicious link or file that will grant them access if you click on them.

The best way to protect yourself from this type of smartphone-based spying is to cover your phone cameras with removable stickers. Additionally, you should not enable apps to have camera access. Finally, it is cybersecurity best practice to never click on a link that comes from an unknown sender.

Your smartphone microphone

The notion that our phones are listening in on your conversations became a big topic in recent years when platforms like Facebook seemingly started serving ads to people based on conversations they had when their phone was in the room.

According to a survey of 1,000 American adults in the US conducted by Consumer Reports, 43% of Americans who own smartphones believe their device is listening in on them.

While a Facebook spokesperson stated in 2016 that the company “does not use your phone's microphone to inform ads or to change what you see in News Feed," it is hard to believe a company that has repeatedly lied to its users.

What we do know for sure is that it is not very difficult to access a smartphone’s microphone to listen in on conversations. If you download an app and grant it access to your microphone, it could switch it on and listen all day. Moreover, if a malicious operator would want to gain access to your microphone, they could send you malware in the form of a link in an email or an attachment that fulfills that purpose.

To protect yourself from corporations or hackers listening in on your conversations, make sure to disable access to microphones for all apps that do not absolutely require them. Additionally, you should avoid clicking on any links or downloading attachments from unknown senders.

Your smartphone apps

From a privacy point of view, smartphone apps are a nightmare. If you grant an app like Facebook or WhatsApp full access, it could hijack your cameras, record you, run facial recognition software, track your location, and more. And those are only the non-malicious apps.

If you are unfortunate enough to download an app that was designed to steal your data and sell it to third parties, you can expect even more spying. Unfortunately, in the case of these apps, even when you do not grant them permission, they are still able to harvest your data.

The best way to avoid privacy infringements from smartphone apps is to disable any unnecessary permissions in settings and to download the minimum amount of apps necessary.

Additionally, you should only download reputable applications to minimize the chance of ending up with a malicious app on your phone. Running a regular malware and virus scan on your smartphone can also help you to identify and clear out any potentially harmful applications.

Hard-line privacy activists may suggest that ditching smartphones altogether is the best step to take to avoid phone-based privacy invasions. However, for the majority of us, that would be rather impractical. Instead, we can take the simple steps mentioned above to protect our privacy a little more today than we did yesterday.



Alex Lielacher, Khareem Sudlow