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cell phone security

Cell Phone Security: Mobile Phone Taps

by Bill Rounds Esq. on January 3, 2010

Reading time: 6 – 10 minutes

James Bond, Jason Bourne and every other Hollywood spy with the initials J.B. use some pretty impressive technology to get around cell phone security and get the information they want out of their targets.  Mobile phone taps are some of the tools now available to those who are not action heroes.  There has been considerable discussion lately about the ease of eavesdropping on cell phone conversations through mobile phone taps and the lack of cell phone security or tools like Spy Bubble.  There are many products and hacks available which allow for monitoring of cell phone activity. Is your phone bugged and what can you do to keep your private information from being intercepted?


How Are Mobile Phones Tapped?

The most common way for someone to breach your cell phone security and surreptitiously listen to your phone calls, other than by the US government, is to install cell phone monitoring software directly onto your cell phone.  This requires the person to have physical access to your phone for about 5 minutes.  Often this will happen when you leave your phone on a desk, on a charger or somewhere else out of your sight.  Once installed, the monitoring software cannot be detected without an expert scan of the phone. The snooper has access to everything in your phone and can listen in to your calls, read your text messages, know your GPS location and even use the speaker phone as a microphone of the room your phone is in, all without you even having your phone turned on.  If you are concerned about the legality of any tool, you should speak to an attorney.

Whose Mobile Phone Might Be Tapped?

There are increasing cases of cell phones being used to intercept valuable information, or simply to harass unsuspecting victims.

Many people would lead you to believe that you are only at risk of a mobile phone tap if you are a mobster or a fugitive from justice.  This is not at all true.  Mobile phone taps are most likely to occur if you have valuable private information.  A likely scenario is a person with access to valuable inside information about a business or transaction.  The more monetary incentive there is to know what you know, the more likely it will be that  someone will take the time to monitor your cell phone.  Monitoring your cell phone for the purpose of harassment is probably less likely to occur than to get valuable information, but because the cost is so low to actually engage in it, it is probably about as likely as other kinds of phone or internet harassment.

How To Know If Your Mobile Phone Is Tapped

The first thing that you might do to determine if your cell phone security has been breached by a mobile phone tap is to evaluate your value as a target.  The more valuable you are as a target, the more consideration should be given to the following symptoms of cell phone buggery.  The most common symptom is that your battery life lasts much shorter than normal.  This happens when your mobile phone is tapped because many tapping systems will cause your phone to send information constantly, whether you are using your cell phone or not, and sometimes even if your phone is switched off.

You may also notice that your phone will light up or flash on for a moment even when the phone is “off.”  This is another indication that someone is accessing the information on your phone remotely.  All of this activity on your phone when not in use causes your cell phone to heat up, much in the same way that it does when you use it for a long time, so a warm cell phone when it otherwise shouldn’t be is another indication of cell phone monitoring.

Another symptom is that you may get some buzzing interference with a call.  A combination of these symptoms, or any one of them individually, are signs that your phone might be monitored.

Here’s What You Can Do To Increase Cell Phone Security

Most phones need to allow physical access to the phone in order to install an illegal bug without your consent.  To avoid bugging, keep your phone in your control as much as possible.  If you are forgetful, try duct taping it to your hand.  You should also password protect your phone. If someone does gain access to your phone they will have to crack the code before they can install any malicious software.

In order to be certain that your cell phone is not being used as a bug, remove the battery.  This prevents all use of your cell phone device as any kind of bug or GPS locator.  Removing the battery is an extreme measure that is not really practical for regular use.  It is an important thing to keep in mind, however for someone like an executive who has access to very valuable inside information in meetings that might be monitored.  Taking out the battery during the meeting, or just leaving it at home that day, will prevent the meeting from being monitored by a mobile phone tap.  You may also take your phone in to have it reset to remove malicious  software.

Conclusion

Cell phone security is becoming more complicated with the ease and low cost of mobile phone taps.  You need to evaluate the risk of a breach of your cell phone security and take the proper steps to avoid disclosure of private data through mobile phone taps.  You might also want to think about avoiding pretexting, keeping your information out of private and public databases, ensuring tools like Spy Bubble are not on your cell phone(s) and avoiding surveillance cameras and avoiding private investigators.  Also, share this and copies of the book How To Vanish with your friends so that they won’t unwittingly help you fall victim to this invasion of your privacy.

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12 comments

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Bill Rounds, Esq. is a California attorney. He holds a degree in Accounting from the University of Utah and a law degree from California Western School of Law. He practices civil litigation, domestic and foreign business entity formation and transactions, criminal defense and privacy law. He is a strong advocate of personal and financial freedom and civil liberties. This is merely one article of 123 by .
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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 James Bond January 7, 2010 at 8:55 pm

I would like to say that the service/advice/topics you discuss I find helpful. I would also like to say that through technology the western world currently has a national identity card (even if they are unaware of it) and China definitely does. Let me explain.

In England the soccer games had too much hooliganism and violence. The way the Brits put a stop to it was as follows. They installed surveillance video monitors throughout the country. They then purchased a face recognition software system for these videos. They then went to the different departments within the government: immigration, motor vehicle registry, child protection, DNA samples, welfare, police, hospital, telephone companies, credit card companies, medical, taxation etc. By decree they ordered all departments to exchange all information to each other via computers. They then wrote a software program such that when they had video pictures of a soccer field brawl, they could touch the screen with their mouse and a name would come up upon each face/person they marked with their mouse and with it all their details from all of those government departments. They then went to the hooligans homes at night and arrested them. 3 years on now and there is no violence at the soccer fields. I wonder why?

I am sure you saw the email which made the rounds after Obama’s inauguration where a photo camera from the CIA was used to take pictures of the million plus people who came to watch which had something like 12,000,000 pixels and you could on your computer screen adjust the strength of the telephoto lense to view either close up or 3 miles away. It was one of the more astonishing examples of technology I personally had experienced. I spent a great detail of time looking at people 2 or 3 miles away and focusing the lens on them so I might view their clothing and facial features.

It worked so well that now England has the video monitors throughout the country. To fine tune the system, they now require a biometrics photos using 3 cameras taking your photo at the same instance from 3 different angles on all passports done in shades of black and white which allows detailed measurement of length of nose, distance from nose to eye etc so that they can recreate the person’s face in 3D. Now with this detail, they can now animate the face such so that they can simulate talking and head movements again using software.

Obviously they know in detail all your investments, movements, times, phone details etc. Why would you need a national identity card?

The Chinese have taken it one step further putting it in to real time. Anyone and everyone who enters Tinamian Square in Beijing must go through a Biometric photo scanner to gain entry and exit. Since they have all of your detail and information as well, the authorities know immediately who is entering, where they are in the Square and when they exit. Australia has a similar system and I am sure the Yanks will find it just a matter of time before they do as well. And as you must be aware, there are software systems similar to carnivore that can monitor and tap into phone calls and data transmission both on lines and air waves using key words (that can be changed on demand) so if you think your speech is not monitored you are naïve, for example an off the shelf software: http://www.geeksaresexy.net/2008/05/05/cell-phone-spying-is-your-life-being-monitored/.

2 Bill Rounds J.D. January 7, 2010 at 11:31 pm

Great comment! Protecting privacy can often require some very vigilant effort, especially when technology is being used to invade privacy.

3 ron April 26, 2011 at 8:06 pm

I have met “business” men who for reasons stated above use cheap unregistered pay as you go cell phones no Bluetooth or Wi-Fi gps or any sort of phone that can run an app. If stopped by the police & an officer has hold of their phone out of their sight for even a few seconds will change phone & number as will all friends who are in regular contact!
I suggested that next time this sort of thing happens or more than week or two of use that instead of taking out sim card & trashing phone they just leave in men’s room of downmarket bar or club where it will be taken & used to call girl friends or dealers or whatever. this will confuse whoever is monitoring the numbers called & send them on wild goose chases!… Always happy to give technical advice. may need a favour sometime, also maybe helpful in writing movie scripts! yes I do have some “nice” friends but NEVER have any business dealings with them apart to sell legal surveillance & counter surveillance equipment.

4 joe street July 24, 2012 at 12:42 pm

Thank you..by use of system monitor i discovered a phone tracker.iv been in the process of trying to find out who put it there.if it was wife then its to hide her affair.the best way to not get caught is know where other one is at and what they are doing.i live up in mountains.not alot o f resorces. so its been hard to get handle on this.wife is around me all the time unless im working.at same time it also points twards cell phone provider.either way sence its the phone.my only sorce to outside world.kinda hard to get information.had it once ip adress routs from my phone. bact to sender. then phone crashed all data lost.any sugestions would be helpful.not that smart when it comes to tec esp phones and new tecknowlagy.i cut trees.make them into boards and can build a house.but cant even log on to facebook.account locked up.i think someone tried to log on to it.thank you for the info on the site.may end up going back to tin csn with string.at noon ill put nail in ground and speek into can can you hear me now.

5 Pinnacle59 May 20, 2013 at 5:10 pm

Regarding inactivating your cell phone…Think Faraday Cage. Removing batteries is such a hassle and getting more difficult all the time.

From Wikipedia: “A Faraday cage or Faraday shield is an enclosure formed by conducting material or by a mesh of such material. Such an enclosure blocks external static and non-static electric fields. Faraday cages are named after the English scientist Michael Faraday, who invented them in 1836.”

I used a modern day Starbucks coffee bag (must be made of metal, tinfoil etc. and it really works – whether on, off – battery installed, whatever. Just make sure to seal the bags ends.

Testing was simple enough: I put my phone in the bag and closed it up and tried calling or texting; voice calls went right to voicemail on the 1st ring etc. indicating the device was off the network.

Since there is no RF making it to the network, one would assume, no voice, data, pics, etc. could be received or transmitted. For the really security conscious, you could carry a Starbucks bag in your car etc. It’s low-tech, does not arouse suspicion and allows you to hide in plain site.

I’ve seen other reports saying the inside of a microwave oven is a good faraday cage. Unfortunately when I tested this – it failed.
That being said, I put my phone in my 35 cu. yd gun-safe and the all metallic, steel-plated, beastly safe offered NO protection. It’s all about frequency and RF – the smaller the better since we’re dealing with microwaves and gigahertz wavelengths.

Let me know how this works out. There’s tons of data on Faraday cages online, e.g en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faraday_cage
or http://www.howstuffworks.com.

Sure the Faraday cage is over 100 years old. I think it’s VERY cool that a piece of tinfoil can stop the most highly skilled technophobe – not to mention Big Brother.

Of course, when in doubt remove the batteries. I don’t think they have yet installed non-removable batteries in these devices – but I can see this being done in the future.

Thanks to Michael Faraday, the brilliant 19th-century scientist.

6 Jake July 10, 2013 at 4:14 pm

If you’re concerned about your text messaging privacy, you can use an encrypted messaging app, here’s the one I use for example: http://www.reviewsuniverse.com/send-secure/

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