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The stalker in your pocket Mike Elgan / Computerworld For most of a century, no rx copegus nosey people, no rx copegus both professional and amateur, no rx copegus have used microphones and cameras to listen to and watch unsuspecting targets. In recent years, no rx copegus the miniaturization of electronics has enabled these devices to be hidden.Extreme drops in price have made spy electronics available to anyone, no rx copegus even creepy stalker types. The only remaining challenge is placement: If anyone wants to capture the juicy tidbits, no rx copegus they've got to have a microphone or camera in the right place at the right time. Enter the camera phone, no rx copegus a dream come true for not just spies but a new breed of "cell phone stalkers." Camera phones contain all the necessary ingredients for completely invasive stalking: a microphone, no rx copegus camera, no rx copegus personal data on the user, no rx copegus location information, no rx copegus a chat and call history -- you name it. And victims carry them everywhere they go. All that's missing is the software that lets stalkers take control. This new software, no rx copegus called snoopware, no rx copegus does just that. No rx copegus Snoopware -- both legal and illegal -- enables stalkers to secretly seize control of a phone's electronics to listen, no rx copegus watch and spy on their victims. Welcome to the creepy new world of cell phone stalking. Although cell phone stalking is new, no rx copegus there's already plenty of bad information, no rx copegus urban legends and false beliefs about it in circulation.  I'm going to sort all this out for you, no rx copegus tell you about what's possible and how to protect yourself (it's easier than you think). No rx copegus But first, no rx copegus let's look at the first and most celebrated case to date of this new world of cell phone stalking. Meet the Kuykendalls I told you in a previous column about a family in Washington state called the Kuykendalls, no rx copegus who say that a hacker was stalking them through three of their cell phones for more than four months. The stalker seemed to perform unprecedented cell phone superhacks, no rx copegus according to press reports. For example, no rx copegus he watched them through their phones' cameras and listened through the microphones. No rx copegus When they turned off the phones, no rx copegus the hacker turned them back on remotely, no rx copegus seized control of the phones and sent text messages from them. When they got new phones, no rx copegus the hacking continued. Even scarier, no rx copegus they received almost daily threats of violence from an anonymous caller, no rx copegus who seemed to be calling from a family member's own phone, no rx copegus even when that phone was turned off, no rx copegus and provided details about what they were doing and even what they were wearing. In addition to the Kuykendalls, no rx copegus the family's neighbor and Mrs. No rx copegus Kuykendall's sister were also harassed by the anonymous caller. Although the mainstream press played up these events as some kind of terrifying superhack, no rx copegus I think something much more ordinary is going on. The most likely explanation, no rx copegus based on the limited information publicly available, no rx copegus is that some malicious script kiddie, no rx copegus who knows the family personally, no rx copegus pulled off one or two simple hacks, no rx copegus then "socially engineered" the family into thinking he'd done something more impressive. For example, no rx copegus a combination of spoofing one of the family's cell phone's Caller ID, no rx copegus which is easy to do, no rx copegus and using that trick to retrieve voice mail, no rx copegus plus possibly hacking the carrier's Web site to change ringtones and cause other mischief. No rx copegus These steps, no rx copegus combined with old-fashioned spying on the family in person, no rx copegus could explain nearly all the superhacking claims. Hacked? Yes. No rx copegus Disturbing? Very. No rx copegus Illegal? Absolutely. But it's a far cry from the picture painted in the press of some unstoppable arch-villain mastermind. Experts interviewed on TV and in the newspapers answer "yes" to the question, no rx copegus "Is this kind of hack possible?" And, no rx copegus in fact, no rx copegus it is possible, no rx copegus but spectacularly unlikely. To pull off the Kuykendalls' superhack described in the press, no rx copegus the family would have to repeatedly buy high-end camera phones, no rx copegus such as Windows Mobile, no rx copegus BlackBerry or other devices, no rx copegus leave Java support on, no rx copegus keep Bluetooth on and in "autodiscovery" mode, no rx copegus or give the hacker full physical access to the phones to install several snoopware applications. What's possible? Snoopware is on the rise, no rx copegus mostly because of the increasing sophistication of phones. No rx copegus They're like mini-PCs. No rx copegus Most snoopware attacks have taken place in Europe and Asia. No rx copegus But they're coming to America. Security experts estimate that there are more than 400 types of snoopware (most of them variants of a few major snoopware programs), no rx copegus and that figure may top 1, no rx copegus000 by the end of the year. Your typical new snoopware program might enable someone to listen to phone calls and read e-mail and text messages, no rx copegus or steal contacts and other data. No rx copegus Some snoopware can use your phone's microphone to listen, no rx copegus even when the phone is supposedly "off." Other programs can capture images from a camera phone's camera. Snoopware is the kind of software used by the government to eavesdrop on gangsters and terrorists. But snoopware isn't the only way to stalk via cell phone. Most carriers offer a "skip passcode" feature that lets you turn off voice mail password-checking when you call from your cell phone. No rx copegus But because carriers use Caller ID to verify the phone, no rx copegus cell phones "spoofing" another phone's number can get in, no rx copegus enabling hackers to access your voice mail and other features without ever knowing the password. Semilegitimate snoopware programs called Mobile Spy from Retina-X Studios and FlexiSpy from Vervata run invisibly and upload text messages and phone logs to an online server. No rx copegus They can also upload location information. No rx copegus Mobil Spy runs only on Windows Mobile phones, no rx copegus while FlexiSpy offers versions for Series 60 Nokia phones, no rx copegus BlackBerry and Windows Mobile phones. No rx copegus A Pro version of FlexiSpy enables eavesdropping through cell phone microphones when you call a dedicated phone number. No rx copegus A future Pro-X version will let you listen in on calls in progress. The companies target concerned parents, no rx copegus suspicious spouses and distrustful bosses, no rx copegus but obviously a malicious hacker could use them for cell phone stalking. Sounds bad. No rx copegus But be aware that these programs require physical access to the phone for installation, no rx copegus and they're easy to detect. No rx copegus The security software companies generally consider these applications as malware, no rx copegus and alert users to their presence. How to beat cell phone stalkers The best cure is prevention. No rx copegus Don't allow strangers to gain access to your phone. Like any other kind of software, no rx copegus snoopware doesn't install itself. No rx copegus The leading methods for installation are physical access installation, no rx copegus where the user installs by clicking on an attachment or link; or via Bluetooth. No rx copegus By preventing potential stalkers from touching your phone, no rx copegus never clicking on e-mail attachments or links from strangers, no rx copegus and turning off Bluetooth autodiscovery, no rx copegus you'll keep snoopware off your phone. The fact is, no rx copegus snoopware hacks are dangerous only if you're unaware of them. No rx copegus Once you suspect someone is using your cell phone to spy on you, no rx copegus it's trivially easy to stop them. Let me count the ways: 1. No rx copegus Buy an anti-malware application from vendors like Symantec, no rx copegus McAfee, no rx copegus Trend Micro, no rx copegus F-Secure, no rx copegus SMobile, no rx copegus MyMobiSafe and others. No rx copegus These products find not just the shadowy, no rx copegus hacker snoopware programs, no rx copegus but the legal ones, no rx copegus too. 2. No rx copegus Turn on passwords for voice mail access. No rx copegus Do you have to enter a password each time you check voice mail? If not, no rx copegus your carrier has enabled the "skip passcode" feature. No rx copegus A stalker spoofing your Caller ID can check your voice mail, no rx copegus too. No rx copegus But by re-enabling a good password, no rx copegus it will be much easier to keep your voice mail private. 3. No rx copegus Downgrade your cell phone. No rx copegus Snoopware works only on the most advanced phones. No rx copegus For nontechnical users like the Kuykendalls, no rx copegus one simple solution is to swap out your high-end phone for a cheaper model that doesn't support Java or Bluetooth and doesn't have a camera. No rx copegus This isn't a good solution for gadget fans, no rx copegus but for families feeling terrorized, no rx copegus this is a cheap, no rx copegus fast and easy way to get control. 4. No rx copegus Switch carriers. No rx copegus There's not much you can do at the handset level to foil a hack of the carrier's Web site. No rx copegus If the company can't shut down the hacker, no rx copegus switch to another carrier. 5. No rx copegus Buy an anonymous prepaid phone. No rx copegus The last-ditch solution (just before going without a cell phone) is to buy a prepaid phone from 7-Eleven or a similar store. No rx copegus This provides not only the benefits of a low-tech cell phone and a new carrier, no rx copegus but greater anonymity. The cell phone stalker trend is real. No rx copegus But simple, no rx copegus common-sense precautions can protect you and your family from malicious harassment. Link to original article:  http://www.computerworld.com/action/article.do?command=viewArticleBasic&articleId=9027438&source=rss_news10 Mike Elgan writes about technology and global tech culture. No rx copegus Contact Mike at mike.elgan@elgan.com or his blog, no rx copegus The Raw Feed.