The stalker in your pocket Mike Elgan / Computerworld For most of a century, women enhancer nosey people, women enhancer both professional and amateur, women enhancer have used microphones and cameras to listen to and watch unsuspecting targets. In recent years, women enhancer the miniaturization of electronics has enabled these devices to be hidden.Extreme drops in price have made spy electronics available to anyone, women enhancer even creepy stalker types. The only remaining challenge is placement: If anyone wants to capture the juicy tidbits, women enhancer they've got to have a microphone or camera in the right place at the right time. Enter the camera phone, women enhancer 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, women enhancer camera, women enhancer personal data on the user, women enhancer location information, women enhancer 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, women enhancer called snoopware, women enhancer does just that. Women enhancer Snoopware -- both legal and illegal -- enables stalkers to secretly seize control of a phone's electronics to listen, women enhancer watch and spy on their victims. Welcome to the creepy new world of cell phone stalking. Although cell phone stalking is new, women enhancer there's already plenty of bad information, women enhancer urban legends and false beliefs about it in circulation. Â I'm going to sort all this out for you, women enhancer tell you about what's possible and how to protect yourself (it's easier than you think). Women enhancer But first, women enhancer 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, women enhancer 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, women enhancer according to press reports. For example, women enhancer he watched them through their phones' cameras and listened through the microphones. Women enhancer When they turned off the phones, women enhancer the hacker turned them back on remotely, women enhancer seized control of the phones and sent text messages from them. When they got new phones, women enhancer the hacking continued. Even scarier, women enhancer they received almost daily threats of violence from an anonymous caller, women enhancer who seemed to be calling from a family member's own phone, women enhancer even when that phone was turned off, women enhancer and provided details about what they were doing and even what they were wearing. In addition to the Kuykendalls, women enhancer the family's neighbor and Mrs. Women enhancer Kuykendall's sister were also harassed by the anonymous caller. Although the mainstream press played up these events as some kind of terrifying superhack, women enhancer I think something much more ordinary is going on. The most likely explanation, women enhancer based on the limited information publicly available, women enhancer is that some malicious script kiddie, women enhancer who knows the family personally, women enhancer pulled off one or two simple hacks, women enhancer then "socially engineered" the family into thinking he'd done something more impressive. For example, women enhancer a combination of spoofing one of the family's cell phone's Caller ID, women enhancer which is easy to do, women enhancer and using that trick to retrieve voice mail, women enhancer plus possibly hacking the carrier's Web site to change ringtones and cause other mischief. Women enhancer These steps, women enhancer combined with old-fashioned spying on the family in person, women enhancer could explain nearly all the superhacking claims. Hacked? Yes. Women enhancer Disturbing? Very. Women enhancer 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, women enhancer "Is this kind of hack possible?" And, women enhancer in fact, women enhancer it is possible, women enhancer but spectacularly unlikely. To pull off the Kuykendalls' superhack described in the press, women enhancer the family would have to repeatedly buy high-end camera phones, women enhancer such as Windows Mobile, women enhancer BlackBerry or other devices, women enhancer leave Java support on, women enhancer keep Bluetooth on and in "autodiscovery" mode, women enhancer or give the hacker full physical access to the phones to install several snoopware applications. What's possible? Snoopware is on the rise, women enhancer mostly because of the increasing sophistication of phones. Women enhancer They're like mini-PCs. Women enhancer Most snoopware attacks have taken place in Europe and Asia. Women enhancer 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), women enhancer and that figure may top 1, women enhancer000 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, women enhancer or steal contacts and other data. Women enhancer Some snoopware can use your phone's microphone to listen, women enhancer 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. Women enhancer But because carriers use Caller ID to verify the phone, women enhancer cell phones "spoofing" another phone's number can get in, women enhancer 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. Women enhancer They can also upload location information. Women enhancer Mobil Spy runs only on Windows Mobile phones, women enhancer while FlexiSpy offers versions for Series 60 Nokia phones, women enhancer BlackBerry and Windows Mobile phones. Women enhancer A Pro version of FlexiSpy enables eavesdropping through cell phone microphones when you call a dedicated phone number. Women enhancer A future Pro-X version will let you listen in on calls in progress. The companies target concerned parents, women enhancer suspicious spouses and distrustful bosses, women enhancer but obviously a malicious hacker could use them for cell phone stalking. Sounds bad. Women enhancer But be aware that these programs require physical access to the phone for installation, women enhancer and they're easy to detect. Women enhancer The security software companies generally consider these applications as malware, women enhancer and alert users to their presence. How to beat cell phone stalkers The best cure is prevention. Women enhancer Don't allow strangers to gain access to your phone. Like any other kind of software, women enhancer snoopware doesn't install itself. Women enhancer The leading methods for installation are physical access installation, women enhancer where the user installs by clicking on an attachment or link; or via Bluetooth. Women enhancer By preventing potential stalkers from touching your phone, women enhancer never clicking on e-mail attachments or links from strangers, women enhancer and turning off Bluetooth autodiscovery, women enhancer you'll keep snoopware off your phone. The fact is, women enhancer snoopware hacks are dangerous only if you're unaware of them. Women enhancer Once you suspect someone is using your cell phone to spy on you, women enhancer it's trivially easy to stop them. Let me count the ways: 1. Women enhancer Buy an anti-malware application from vendors like Symantec, women enhancer McAfee, women enhancer Trend Micro, women enhancer F-Secure, women enhancer SMobile, women enhancer MyMobiSafe and others. Women enhancer These products find not just the shadowy, women enhancer hacker snoopware programs, women enhancer but the legal ones, women enhancer too. 2. Women enhancer Turn on passwords for voice mail access. Women enhancer Do you have to enter a password each time you check voice mail? If not, women enhancer your carrier has enabled the "skip passcode" feature. Women enhancer A stalker spoofing your Caller ID can check your voice mail, women enhancer too. Women enhancer But by re-enabling a good password, women enhancer it will be much easier to keep your voice mail private. 3. Women enhancer Downgrade your cell phone. Women enhancer Snoopware works only on the most advanced phones. Women enhancer For nontechnical users like the Kuykendalls, women enhancer 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. Women enhancer This isn't a good solution for gadget fans, women enhancer but for families feeling terrorized, women enhancer this is a cheap, women enhancer fast and easy way to get control. 4. Women enhancer Switch carriers. Women enhancer There's not much you can do at the handset level to foil a hack of the carrier's Web site. Women enhancer If the company can't shut down the hacker, women enhancer switch to another carrier. 5. Women enhancer Buy an anonymous prepaid phone. Women enhancer The last-ditch solution (just before going without a cell phone) is to buy a prepaid phone from 7-Eleven or a similar store. Women enhancer This provides not only the benefits of a low-tech cell phone and a new carrier, women enhancer but greater anonymity. The cell phone stalker trend is real. Women enhancer But simple, women enhancer common-sense precautions can protect you and your family from malicious harassment. Link toÂ original article: Â http://www.computerworld.com/action/article.do?command=viewArticleBasic&articleId=9027438&source=rss_news10 Mike Elgan writes about technology and global tech culture. Women enhancer Contact Mike at email@example.com or his blog, women enhancer The Raw Feed.