The Android smartphones, which have now become ubiquitous in all parts of the world, can be used by hackers or foreign agencies to gather information on the users. It has now come to light that the law-enforcement and intelligence gathering agencies in USA have been operating a special division that specialises in gathering information by taking control of any user’s smartphone. The FBI is capable of remotely activating the microphone on Android smartphones to record the user’s conversations. The bureau, according to its officials, has controls in place to ensure only relevant data is scooped up.
Essentially this means that the FBI has the capability of snooping on any smartphone based conversation, irrespective of where the smartphone is located. The danger here is that the activation of the microphone to snoop is not necessarily related to just phone calls, but can be activated even when you are not on the phone. This would give the FBI access to conversations that you have in-person with another person if the agency remotely activates the device’s microphone at the opportune time.
According to people who are familiar with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s programmes, the use of hacking tools has grown as agents seek to keep up with suspects who use new communications technology, including some types of online chat and encryption tools. The use of such communications, which can’t be wiretapped like a phone, is called “going dark” among law enforcement. The FBI has been developing hacking tools for more than a decade, but rarely discloses its techniques publicly in legal cases.
There also exists evidence to suggest that the agencies in developed countries are gathering intelligence on foreign nations by use of similar smartphone based tactics. The global spotlight is already on the US surveillance programme PRISM, and with the news of FBI using the Android smartphones to gather intelligence on suspects, there is bound to be rise in privacy related concerns. The FBI employs a number of hackers who write custom surveillance software, and also buys software from the private sector. But what stops the private sector from selling the hacking techniques to criminal organisations?
Cyber criminals in Russia have built a lucrative business that employs thousands of people, and they are just waiting for smartphone users to click on fishy links. According to new research by mobile security provider Lookout states that as many as ten mobile malware businesses in Russia with start-up-like behaviours make up at least 60 per cent of a complex Russian malware industry. These criminals are currently engaged in ramping up their marketing efforts to reach unsuspecting consumers. They are hiring thousands of individual affiliate marketers and are known to own tens of thousands of web properties to advertise their malware.
In many cases, the malware comes disguised as a popular app like Angry Birds, Facebook, Skype, etc., which most users tend to search for. The most popular method of attack is toll fraud, which is a scheme designed to secretly charge a victim’s phone bill via premium SMS messages, often while providing no service in return. In order to safeguard their phone from malicious intrusions, users should download apps only from trusted resources. You have to pay attention to the developer’s name, reviews and star ratings. You can also download a mobile security app like Lookout that scans every app you download for malware and spyware.