The apps your partner could be using to spy on you

If you’re concerned about your privacy, be alert and assume the worst

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These apps are bru­tal,” Ondrej Kre­hel told me dur­ing a con­ver­sa­tion about spy­ware, or “spouse­ware” as the soft­ware is some­times called.

It doesn’t mat­ter what ‘intend­ed use’ these app devel­op­ers claim in their sales pitch­es. They are increas­ing­ly being used by teens to spy on their love inter­ests,” Kre­hel said. “It’s quite preva­lent.”

Kre­hel is CEO and founder of LIFARS, a dig­i­tal foren­sics and cyber­se­cu­ri­ty intel­li­gence firm. He sees spy­ware as a con­cern for con­sumers.

The mal­ware that is used to spy on ter­ror­ists and oth­er crim­i­nals is not too dif­fer­ent from the spy­ware cur­rent­ly mar­ket­ed to consumers—although it has few­er fea­tures,” Kre­hel said.

What ‘spouse­ware’ can do

Adam Levin, chair­man and co-founder of Credit.com and Cyber­Scout (for­mer­ly IDT911)

Flex­iSpy, mSpy and Mobile Spy are some of the names in the con­sumer spy­ware app busi­ness. The appli­ca­tions make it pos­si­ble to mon­i­tor vir­tu­al­ly every com­mu­ni­ca­tion made on a tar­get­ed smart­phone or com­put­er.

The var­i­ous spy­ware, or spouse­ware, apps avail­able on the mar­ket can let users see absolute­ly every­thing that hap­pens on a device. It’s like a sur­veil­lance cam­era point­ed at the user’s screen.

Here’s an at-a-glance list of what kind of infor­ma­tion would-be spies can see:

• All social media
• Snapchat
• Encrypt­ed mes­sag­ing apps like What­sApp
• Dat­ing Apps
• Text mes­sages
• Calls
• Real-time GPS loca­tion

At $29.99 a month, pret­ty much any­one can be a spy. MSpy alone has more than a mil­lion users.

The sto­ries of stalk­ers, jilt­ed lovers and overzeal­ous admir­ers are legion. In 2014, NPR report­ed that 85 per­cent of 72 domes­tic vio­lence shel­ters they sur­veyed said they were work­ing with vic­tims whose abusers tracked them with GPS. Sev­en­ty-five per­cent said they had worked with vic­tims whose abusers used hid­den mobile apps to eaves­drop on them remote­ly.

While there is sad­ly no short­age of sto­ries out there, most are told under the cloak of alias­es. Although large­ly anec­do­tal, Kre­hel told me the mis­use of spy­ware among teens was with­out doubt a grow­ing prob­lem.

I would say 30 per­cent of the spy­ware users out there are young guys spy­ing on their girl­friends,” he said.

The end user agree­ments are clear. These apps are to be used for legal pur­pos­es only. The mar­ket­ing is not point­ed at mon­i­tor­ing fideli­ty, but rather what a child is get­ting up to or as an enter­prise tool for man­ag­ing employ­ees.

The app devel­op­ers make it clear that any mon­i­tor­ing made pos­si­ble with spy­ware should be done with the con­sent and knowl­edge of the par­ty whose device is being tracked.

MSpy’s user agree­ment says: “User acknowl­edges that the Soft­ware shall be used for the pur­pose of mon­i­tor­ing, track­ing and obtain­ing access to cer­tain devices as cell phone and com­put­er (includ­ing, but not lim­it­ed to, email and text mes­sages) of chil­dren and employ­ees and oth­er device own­ers with their con­sent here­to, includ­ing through the use of devices, on which the Soft­ware is installed.”

It is ille­gal to spy on some­one with­out their con­sent. The prob­lem here is that while it’s ille­gal, the penal­ties are not very seri­ous. Kre­hel stat­ed that while a per­son might get 30-day jail sen­tence or pay a fine, the dam­age inflict­ed is some­times life-chang­ing with vic­tims and the peo­ple in touch with them sud­den­ly find­ing them­selves in divorce pro­ceed­ings, los­ing jobs or even com­mit­ting sui­cide.

What to do

As with all things secu­ri­ty-relat­ed, it is good prac­tice to assume that the unimaginable—or in this case the prevalent—can hap­pen to you, too. It’s also wise to take the nec­es­sary mea­sures to pre­vent it.

• While it is pos­si­ble to install spy­ware remote­ly on some Apple prod­ucts, most often phys­i­cal pos­ses­sion of a device is required. Nev­er sur­ren­der your device to any­one, or leave it unat­tend­ed.

• Don’t assume your pass­words are unknown to those clos­est to you. (Check out these tips for bet­ter inter­net safe­ty.)

• Nev­er share your cloud cre­den­tials, since this makes it pos­si­ble to install some types of spy­ware.

• Pro­tect your pass­words and change them often. Or use bio­met­ric authen­ti­ca­tion.

• Don’t assume that just because you don’t see a spy­ware app on your device that it isn’t there. Check for installed apps and soft­ware (this may require pro­grams that review apps and soft­ware), and become acquaint­ed with the soft­ware and apps out there.

If you sus­pect you’ve got spy­ware on a device, save what needs to be saved on an exter­nal dri­ve and wipe the device, restor­ing the fac­to­ry default set­tings. But bear in mind that there are some snoop­ing tech­niques (the NSA places their exploits direct­ly on a chip in the device hard­ware) where a fac­to­ry reset won’t help you.

To fur­ther guard against fraud and iden­ti­ty theft, mon­i­tor your cred­it for any sus­pi­cious changes. You can get a free cred­it report snap­shot on Credit.com.

It’s rough out there for peo­ple con­cerned about their pri­va­cy, but being alert goes a long way.

Full dis­clo­sure: Cyber­Scout spon­sors Third­Cer­tain­ty. This sto­ry orig­i­nat­ed as an Op/Ed con­tri­bu­tion to Credit.com and does not nec­es­sar­i­ly rep­re­sent the views of the com­pa­ny or its part­ners.

More on iden­ti­ty theft:
Iden­ti­ty Theft: What You Need to Know
3 Dumb Things You Can Do With Email
How Can You Tell If Your Iden­ti­ty Has Been Stolen?