UAE Spies on Blackberry Users

July 24, 2009

The LATimes story pulls no punches.  When Blackberry users in the United Arab Emirates downloaded what was billed as a routine OS upgrade, they in fact were installing spyware that, to quote the LATimes, “gives the state-controlled service provider Etisalat unfettered access to their personal mobile devices.”

Nouveau riche Dubai is the centerpiece of the UAE, meaning that thousands of westerners may have downloaded this spyware, which lets the UAE telco read all email on the devices.   According to the BBC, there are 145,000 Blackberry subscribers in the UAE.

Says RIM, the Blackberry manufacter: “Independent sources have concluded that the Etisalat update is not designed to improve performance of your BlackBerry, but rather to send received messages back to a central server.”

What’s unclear is why the UAE decided to attempt to read all messages on users smartphones.

One irony is that, apparently, the spyware scam unraveled because the code installed by the UAE telco just was poor — triggering crashes and dramatically reducing battery life.  Better written software just might have escaped notice.

Lesson learned: always check on authenticity and the raison d’etre before clicking “install” on smartphone OS updates.


Even the Dead Have No Secrets

July 23, 2009

9 months after she was beaten to death, Arkansas TV anchor Anne Pressly’s case put three people in federal court today — a physician, an ER coordinator, and a hospital billings clerk — charged with snooping through the murder victim’s personal medical files. The three pled guilty.

Arkansas Business reports:  “For the violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, each faces up to one year in prison, a fine of up to $50,000, or both. Sentencing has not been scheduled.”

Apparently, other hospital employees have been fired for snooping into Pressly’s records.

The Illusion of Hotel Privacy

July 23, 2009

More heat billows off the Erin Andrews snoopgate affair, as experts weigh in on who the spy might be.  Some say it had to be an insider, others hypothesize that anyone with a cellphone videocamer was good to go.  Our bet is on a hotel employee with a hunger for easy dough and with a cellphone in hand.  We doubt fancy equipment played a role.

For hotel guests, anywhere, this raises worrisome memories of the wholesale peeping and eavesdropping by East Germany’s Stasi, who probably spied on every US tourist who stayed overnight in the DDR.  But guests today, just about anywhere, ought to be raiing questions about exactly how private their stay really will be.

China, for instance, apparently committed massive privacy invasion on western guests during the Olympics.  ABC reported: “Several major international hotel chains confirmed receiving the order to install online monitoring devices….

One major international hotel chain, which operates in several Olympic host cities, told ABC News on condition of anonymity that they were recently contacted by Chinese authorities who requested that hotels install monitoring devices in their rooms, allowing the authorities to spy on guests. This hotel chain, independently contacted by ABC, said that if they are forced, they will install the devices.”

Don’t think China is alone.  It isn’t.  And don’t think most spying is in effect authorized, by the state ot the hotel itself.  Our bet is that many low-paid hotel employees dream and scheme about the worth of a sex tape, a nude shot, the right intercepted phone call on tape.

Amateur 007s — You Too A Snoop?

July 21, 2009

4 in 10 Brits spend about one full day per month — a solid 24 hours — prowling the Internet for info on work associates, relatives, themselves, says a fresh report from Yasni, a search site.  Per the Belfast Telegraph: “Yasni quizzed 1,412 people asking them how many hours they spent prying online. Around 70% revealed they wasted more than 10 hours per month searching for information on friends, family, enemies, colleagues, former partners and themselves. But a smaller number – 38%, spent a total equalling a whole day each month prying online.”

The Times Online blog offered this snide approbation of Yasni: “yasni looks like the perfect solution for spies and vengeful creeps, especially now that YouTube and Wikipedia have been added to its search base.”  The story’s title is, “how to track down the people you hate.”

In a press release, Andy Barr CCO of Yasni had the following to say:

“These results are staggering and although we are very aware of the public’s growing need to spy online, I find it quite unbelievable that people are willing to waste so much time doing so. We have updated the number of websites used within the Yasni search to include YouTube, Wikipedia and flickr; therefore Yasni provides an even more comprehensive search in the same short time frame.

“For our users, a full search like this would only take a few seconds for each person you are looking for; dramatically lower than those who currently use other sites such as a people search device.

“To us it seems simple; would you rather spend the majority of your evening looking online for your friends or perform a quick search and then actually spend quality time with your friends and family instead? The answer seems obvious to us.”

More Erin Andrews, Peephole Spying

July 21, 2009

The New York Post dives into the story with a collection of nude stills of ESPN talker Erin Andrews, the pix purportedly lifted from the video taken of her in her hotel room.

This story got us to exploring peephole cameras which, we discovered, are widely available for around $100.  Here’s one.  Here’s a variation, probably similar to the kind that invaded Ms. Andrews’ privacy.

Bottomline: even in hotel rooms you are an easy target for spies, voyeurs, creeps and worse.  The technology is out there, at low prices.  How are you fighting back?

1984 in London Today

July 21, 2009

A south London high school now has 100 surveillance cameras and they are watching students, teachers, staff.  Reports the Evening Standard: “[The cameras were] introduced to combat truancy, prevent vandalism, protect teachers from false allegations against them and deter intruders. The cameras also film lessons to monitor staff technique and expose poor teaching.”

The Evening Standard adds that some 100 more UK schools have cameras, although the number of units generally is much lower, in single digits.

The Telegraph further reports that a survey last year found 8 in 10 Britain schools had spy cameras in place and in use.

The Daily Mail says of the south London system that it “watches pupils everywhere.”  Not precisely true because, apparently, bathrooms are unmonitored.  Cameras seem to be in classrooms mainly, with another “40 cameras in corridors, stairwells and outdoor areas.”

Creepy Nude Video of ESPN Star

July 20, 2009

ESPN reporter Erin Andrews was doing as many do — she was walking around her hotel room naked.  What she did not know is that, somehow, a creep was videoing her and he then put it up for sale.

The story gets creepier still.  Apparently as word spread on the ‘Net about the tape, would-be viewers search online for the vendor — and what they found were on the fly sites erected by phishers and malware purveyors, which downloaded toxic data onto visitors computers (not that they didn’t deserve it for their voyeurism).

Andrews, incidentally, was apparently videotaped through a keyhole in her hotel room door.

According to the NY Daily News, actually laying eyes on the real video isn’t easy: ”

Many of the real video links were broken after Andrews’ lawyer and the ESPN legal team stepped in – pointing out that she is actually the victim of a crime.

“While alone in the privacy of her hotel room, Erin Andrews was surreptitiously videotaped without her knowledge or consent,” her lawyer said in a statement.

Does the real tape exist?  Maybe, maybe not.  According to the NY Daily News, it did, but ESPN lawyers have been busy scaring away would-be sellers: “Many of the real video links were broken after Andrews’ lawyer and the ESPN legal team stepped in – pointing out that she is actually the victim of a crime.

‘While alone in the privacy of her hotel room, Erin Andrews was surreptitiously videotaped without her knowledge or consent,’ her lawyer said in a statement.”

Employees Leak Insider Info, Now Officially a Tidal Wave

July 20, 2009

Here’s the shocking statistic: “14% of 586 U.S. employees admitted they had sent confidential or potentially embarrassing company emails to outsiders,” reports the Wall Street Journal.

Social media make it all so very easy.  “Secrets” whispered by top execs are in unathorized tweets literally within minutes of their utterance, and full details of embarrassing corporate actions (a hush-hush round of layoffs, for instance) surface in blogs within the hour, often accompanied by attachments of top-secrets documents.

What’s a company to do?  Many now are scurring for tools to monitor Internet access of Twitter, Facebook, key blogs — but our advice is, forget about it.  With iPhones, Blackberries, and Android phones — often registered to employees private accounts —  there just is no way to do a Big Brother and stop the info spread.  Leaks just are part of today’s corporate fabric.  Accept it, move on.

It’s not as though you have a choice.

4 Million Brit IDs for Sale, Now, to Criminals

July 20, 2009

If you hold a credit card and if you are online, your essential ID info just may be for sale, to criminals, via online ID bazaars.  That’s the upshot of a Times of London investigation: “At least a quarter of a million British bank and credit card accounts have been hacked into by cybercriminals, exposing consumers to huge financial losses. Most of the personal data has been gathered as a result of ‘phishing’ — a process whereby members of the public are duped into handing over their key details, such as user names, passwords and credit card details.”

Guess that twice as many IDs of US residents are for sale — around 8 million.

Says the Times of London: “Individual credit card details have been sold for as little as 30p.”  That’s about a half dollar.

Curiously, Colin Holder, a retired Metropolitan police officer, has been gathering up purloined IDs, into his own database.  Eventually he plans to allow members of the public to check on what info about them has been for sale.

A recent development: the recently dead are coming back to life as identity theft con artists use the ID of the deceased to run scams.

Smile, You’re On Candid Camera

July 15, 2009

Across New York there are 8000 spy cameras, watching your every move, estimates the New York Civil Liberties Union, and there also are innumerable cameras at ATMs and operated by private businesses and buildings, according to a report by the New York Daily News.  Wherever you go, particularly in Manhattan, you probably are caught on camera.

This has its good points.  When a NYPD officer body slammed a bicyclist during a Times Square protest, somebody caught the action on film, uploaded it to YouTube, and now the cyclist is suing.

Or ask the JFK Airport TSA who was caught on videotape stealing electronics from a checked bag, and who was subsequently arrested.

New York also has hundreds of cameras set up to monitor traffic — 45 in Manhattan alone — and of course these cameras also track people.

Want to avoid all cameras?  In New York, it’s not easy.  But there’s ISee, developed by the Institute for Applied Autonomy, which helps New Yorkers pinpoint where surveillance cameras are and map a route designed to avoid them.