Spyware in you cell phone -- what next?

Summary:I just read CNET reporter Joris Evers' article about new spy software that hides on cell phones. I think it's outrageous, but I guess it shouldn't be too surprising since there's spyware for your automobile.

I just read CNET reporter Joris Evers' article about new spy software that hides on cell phones. I think it's outrageous, but I guess it shouldn't be too surprising since there's already spyware for your automobile. This spyware for cell phones is called FlexiSpy. FlexiSpy went on the market March 1 and is advertised as a tool to track kids and errant spouses. This software captures call logs, text messages, mobile Internet connections, and new features are being developed.  The captured data is sent to vendor Vervata's servers and can be accessed on a website.

Oh, this soo ripe for abuse!  FlexiSpy sounds like the equivalent of a key logger on a computer. Anti-domestic violence groups are outraged, and rightfully so. Security company F-Secure has labeled the application as a Spy Trojan, Flexispy.A and have added detection for it to their mobile anti-virus. F-Secure says FlexiSpy is hidden from the Symbian process menu and is invisible to the phone user. The hidden interface can be accessed with a code known only by the person who installed FlexiSpy. Just like a key logger. 

The F-Secure blog and threat description have screenshots of the user interface. FlexiSpy records server time, direction, duration, phone number and contact name. It also records contents of SMS messages. Right now FlexiSpy is available only for cell phone using the Symbian operating system, but plans are in place to release versions for BlackBerrys and phones running Windows Mobile Pocket PC. A Pro version is in the works, too. The Pro version will allow the user to actually listen to conversations on the phone, log email messages and multimedia messages.

The company selling Flexi-Spy, Vervata, based in Bangkok, Thailand defends the application since it has to be knowingly installed by a human, does not self replicate or pretend to be something it's not, and can be uninstalled.  That's nice. This software has a huge potential for abuse because it can be used to monitor someone without their knowledge and consent.

One has to ask, is it ever morally and ethically acceptable to monitor someone's communications without their knowledge and consent, whether with a key logger on their computer or with a spy program on their cell phone?

There are some interesting points in the Talkbacks on Evers' article. Here the poster points out another concern: the potential for abuse of the information stored on the website. She mentions the security of the site -- what if hackers got the information?  I'd want to see the site's privacy policy and know what security measures they have in place.

I'd like to know what readers think about the question -- is it ever acceptable to electronically monitor someone without their knowledge and consent? A Florida court said NO.  The court ruled a wife broke the state law against wiretapping by installing surveillance software Spector on her husband's computer and recording his online activities. The wiretapping law says who anyone "intentionally intercepts" any "electronic communication" commits a criminal act. It seems to me that the use of FlexiSpy breaks that law, too.

Topics: Security

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