They allow intercepting messages and calls, tracking by GPS in real time and even activating the camera to see what the person is doing live. According to different studies, this type of software is often used by harassers and abusers to control their victims.
Cell Tracker has more than one million downloads and a four out of five average score in Google Play. The first description about this application is sober: “Use Mobile Tracker to track the location of your phone. Track all the places you’ve visited in the last few days with your Android phone”. This app says serve to know where you have been in the last three days in case you’ve been on tour, to track the movement of employees of your company and to “check where are their loved ones, what they have visited these days or in recent hours. There are dozens of this kind of app on the market, among them the popular applications for parental control of minors.
The real usefulness of the application is reflected in the comments of interested users: How can I monitor the movements of another person, do I know where my friends are, and my girlfriend, or is it enough to put someone’s phone number to access their location? Does this application get there? And the technology?
In the case of Cell Tracker, and almost all of the applications downloaded for mobile, you can not control the device of another user remotely. “You need physical access to accept permissions,” explains Jaime Blasco, a computer security specialist and director of AlienVault security labs. So why have spying cases multiplied thanks to the proliferation of these tracking applications? Because to install these applications and start controlling, all you need is to have the other person’s mobile phone at hand and be able to unlock it,” says Blasco.
That’s why couples use this type of application the most: they have more access to the other person’s device and are therefore easier to install. The solution for these cases lies in preserving certain aspects of your privacy, such as your phone’s unlock code. “Another option is to use, instead of a password, the Touch ID, the fingerprint, to unlock the phone,” says the security expert.
Another added threat to these applications is that most of them leave no trace on the phone, i.e. there is no icon to prove their installation. The tracking applications also do not send copies of the data obtained to the controlled phone, only to the number that has been chosen to control. In this way, a spy application could be operating on a mobile without the owner’s knowledge.
To solve this, the National Institute of Cybersecurity (Incibe) has created a free application – currently only available for Android – that performs a diagnosis of the ‘invisible’ state of the phone. The app is called Conan Mobile and tracks between 80 and 90% of the operating park. “Analyze which applications installed on your phone are accessing your position, contact list or messages. And it informs you about it,” explains Alberto Hernandez, director of operations at Incibe. “Many times you download a basic and apparently innocuous application, such as the flashlight, and it turns out that it is accessing your personal data or your email. That’s where the alarm has to go off.
From Anti-Theft To Spy App
It is often the case of applications that have not been created for espionage and yet are used to control. One of the last cases was Cerberus, an anti-theft app that allows you to control your mobile phone through your website or through messages, so that, in case of theft or loss, the device can be tracked. The application also allows you to record audios and take photographs and videos to ‘hunt’ the possible thief. All this from remote control. These features allowed a man from Almeria who had installed the application on his partner’s device, without his consent, to spy on her for months. The author, L.J.M.D., was sentenced in January to two years in prison for obtaining information, photographs and intimate videos.
In Spain, two men have been sentenced in less than a year for using these applications to spy on their partners.
This prison sentence is the second in less than a year in Spain. The first case was in Girona for the same crime: “Discovery and revelation of secrets with the aggravating factor of kinship”. The two sentences are a severe warning for those who are watching the computer devices of their partners. “Technology advances much faster than legislation, but I am optimistic and believe we are on the right track, we will see changes soon,” says Jaime Blasco.
Downloading this type of application is as simple as googling “spying on my girlfriend”. The list of options is endless. The police track many of these websites and applications. Occasionally, some of the programs sold boast of being legal. “It would be like that, as long as they were used to remotely control their own devices and not those of third parties,” explains Inspector Silvia Barrera, from the police’s Technological Investigation Unit.
The MSPY website, an application with a more sophisticated interface, repeats that it is “completely legal”, although it is presented with the following slogan: “The best app to control your children and employees”. From 26.99 € per month, MSPY promises total monitoring: “Our software works by recording all activity without being detected, the data collected are GPS location, Web history, images, videos, emails, SMS, Skype, WhatsApp, keystrokes and much more.
The program bases its legality on the consent of the person to be monitored. But the security expert is forceful: “They are not legal. Which user is going to accept this exhaustive control of all your movements? To control himself? It’s just an excuse. Thus, the crime begins at the moment in which these applications are used to control a couple or a third party without their consent.
iOS Safer Than Android
The experts are clear: the operating system used by Apple is much more secure than the Android system. It’s much more difficult to install such an application on an iPhone, because Apple has a much tougher application policy and doesn’t allow downloading certain applications that the product developer doesn’t know about. Instead, Android uses free software that allows applications to have easier access to the hardware.
To install this type of spy application on iOS – as indicated in the download features – it is necessary to jailbreak the iPhone operating system. Without jailbreak it is very difficult to install spyware that can access the camera or messages.
Also read this article about whether you should spy on your kids or not.