If you’ve ever watched virtually any spy flick or James Bond movie you’re familiar with “bugs” – those little dime-sized metallic things that the bad guys would secretly stick under someone’s desk to record any conversation in the room—picked up by a receiver in their car. Or, the phone was “tapped” – the device was inside the receiver.
How primitive! Because these days, all of your computer, mobile, tablet and online activities can be “bugged” – without someone ever coming into your home or office—remote spying—done with spyware. They know what you’re posting to Facebook, what videos you’re watching, what secrets you’re telling or hiding—anything and everything. They may even be watching YOU as you type or recording your keystrokes.
Spyware companies sell the technology and it’s legal to purchase. Spyware ranges from $40 to $200 a month. Based on their sales, it’s feasible that millions of Internet users are being spied on.
Selling spyware is perfectly legal, as mentioned, even though this can get into the wrong hands. But it’s akin to the legal sales and use of knives. In the wrong hands, even a butter knife could be a dangerous weapon.
Though some spyware devices must be installed physically on the target’s device (e.g., wife installing on her husband’s device, employer installing on employee device, parent on child’s device), some devices can be installed remotely.
This isn’t as techy as you think. The spyware companies want to make money, so they’ve made it easy to install and use their products. Parents wanting to know what’s going on with their teenagers are drawn to this technology. So are psycho-stalkers.
Spyware is a big hit with people wanting to find out if their spouse or significant other is cheating on them, and many even focus on this in their ads. Another demographic that’s drawn to spyware are employers who want to see what their employees are up to.
But let’s not forget that a thief could spy on someone to get their credit card number, passwords and other crucial information and then use it to drain their bank accounts, max out their credit card or open a new credit card under their name and go wild with it.
Spyware can also be used to eavesdrop on phone calls after the snooper (or stalker) puts the app in the phone. There are cases in which abusive men did just this to their partner’s phone after the partner fled from them, then tracked them down and committed violence against them. So should spyware be banned? Well, it goes back to the butter knife analogy.
Spyware gets away with legality because of its strong legitimacy in terms of parents keeping an eye on their kids, and employers monitoring employees whom they think are goofing off on the job. However, an employer can take it further and “follow” where the employee goes on lunch break or to see if they went to that big basketball game when they called in sick.
That’s pushing it, but it can go even further: The spyware customer could intercept phone calls, text messages and anything else the unsuspecting target does on their smartphone. However, even though spyware came out in the mid ‘90s, there have been only three prosecutions. If it’s ever outlawed, parents will go berserk.
How many times have you read about something horrible that a teenager did, that was somehow connected to their online activities, and you thought, “Where were the parents when all this was going on? Weren’t they monitoring their kid’s online activities? Didn’t the parents care what their child was doing online?” Etc., etc.?
If these parents had had one of these spyware programs, maybe they would have nipped their kids’ problems in the bud and prevented tragedy. But don’t let these cases fool you: Parents make up a large percentage of spyware customers.
Critics of spyware won’t back down, including legislators, and maybe that’s why some companies are requiring customers to identify themselves as parents or employers in order to use their applications. This sounds more like defensive TOS, since anyone can claim they’re a parent or workplace supervisor without having to prove it. What’s a company really going to do…send out a private investigator to see if the new user really DOES have a teenager?
Now that you know more about spyware, how can you prevent someone from bugging your phone or computer? Keep your devices locked. Never leave your phone where someone can get to it.
Robert Siciliano is an Identity Theft Expert to Hotspot Shield. He is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen See him discussing internet and wireless security on Good Morning America. Disclosures.