Is your cellphone spying on you?

Don’t laugh.

The bad guys may be catching up on you.

Here’s the scary reality: smartphones pack plenty of intelligence, but slender self-defense mechanisms.  The built-in anti-viral, anti-malware tools taken for granted on PCs don’t exist on wireless devices, where competition for available storage is intense and, so far, users would rather have space for voice dialers and snapshots of their kids than for self-defense tools.  This is creating a massive opportunity for cyber criminals, who increasingly eye the phone as the weak link because a new generation of cheap, easy to deploy spy software is turning the phone into an all-purpose eavesdropping device, with the owner as victim.

Newsweek reports that: “This new generation of -user-friendly spy-phone software has become widely available in the last year—and it confers stunning powers. The latest programs can silently turn on handset microphones even when no call is being made, allowing a spy to listen to voices in a room halfway around the world. Targets are none the wiser: neither call logs nor phone bills show records of the secretly transmitted data.”

Spend $50 to $100 online and you’ll get real, working spyware.  It’s no joke.

In Tampa, ABC Action News planted spyware on the phone of a volunteer named Brie (who was in on the ploy) and, reports ABC, “every time Brie makes or receives a call, we received a text message alert telling us she was on the line. All we had to do was dial in, and listen in.

And this gets even creepier. At a Tampa restaurant we could listen to Bries conversations even though she wasn’t using her phone! It doesn’t even have to be turned on.

That’s right, even though we were miles away, we could remotely activate the microphone in her cellphone, turning Brie’s phone into a bug hidden in plain sight.”

Big news media have jumped on the story.  The sad, scary story of teenager Courtney Kuykendall — whose phone was commandeered and turned against her and her family — has opened many eyes with fright.  Local news reported: “The Kuykendall family’s troubles started in February when 16-year-old Courtney Kuykendall’s cell phone started sending text messages to her friends — by itself, the family said.

Then the threats came. A scratchy voice called daily, sometimes to say that the entire family’s throats would be slit, Courtney’s mother, Heather, told ABC News.”

A good YouTube news report on how your phone can be turned into a spy tool against you is here.

What should you do to protect yourself?

Three steps are worth taking:

* Make the phone password protected.

* Turn off all Bluetooth connectivity when not using it (or just turn Bluetooth off entirely, suggest many security experts).

* Take out the phone’s battery for extended periods.  With no power, the device cannot spy on you.

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