Spyware phone app CEO indicted for conspiracy

Spyware phone app CEO indicted for conspiracy
The head of a company that sells a spyware application for smartphones has been indicted and arrested for conspiracy and other charges related to surreptitious interception. It is the first time the US Department of Justice has targeted spyware apps.

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Undetectable and untraceable by most phone users – that is how a spyware application dubbed StealthGenie was allegedly being advertised by Hammad Akbar, the chief executive of the Pakistani-owned, UK-based company InvoCode.

The 31-year-old native of Lahore, Pakistan, is also one of the creators of the app, which can intercept communications to and from mobile phones, including Apple, Android and BlackBerry devices, the Justice Department said.

Once installed on the phone, it allows conversations to be monitored as they take place, enables the purchaser to call the phone and activate it at any time to monitor all surrounding conversations within a 15-foot radius, and collects the user’s incoming and outgoing email and SMS messages, incoming voicemail, address book, calendar, photographs, and videos. All of these functions are enabled without the knowledge of the user of the phone.

“Selling spyware is not just reprehensible, it’s a crime,” Leslie Caldwell, assistant attorney general in the DOJ’s Criminal Division, said in a statement. “Apps like StealthGenie are expressly designed for use by stalkers and domestic abusers who want to know every detail of a victim’s personal life — all without the victim’s knowledge.”

Akbar was charged with conspiracy, sale of a surreptitious interception device, advertisement of a known interception device and advertising a device as a surreptitious interception device in US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. He was arrested in Los Angeles on Saturday, and was expected to appear before a magistrate in the Central District of California Monday.

“StealthGenie has little use beyond invading a victim’s privacy,” said US Attorney Boente. “Advertising and selling spyware technology is a criminal offense, and such conduct will be aggressively pursued by this office and our law enforcement partners.”

The indictment occurred in Virginia because StealthGenie was hosted at a data center in Ashburn, Virginia. A federal judge there issued a temporary restraining order, authorizing the FBI to disable the website hosting the application.

“This application allegedly equips potential stalkers and criminals with a means to invade an individual’s confidential communications,” said FBI Assistant Director in Charge McCabe. “They do this not by breaking into their homes or offices, but by physically installing spyware on unwitting victims’ phones and illegally tracking an individual’s every move. As technology continues to evolve, the FBI will investigate and bring to justice those who use illegal means to monitor and track individuals without their knowledge.”

The person who buys the app needs physical control of the phone only to install it – then they are able to control it remotely.

Part of the indictment focuses not just on selling StealthGenie, but on the software’s marketing.

The advertising of StealthGenie targeted “‘[s]pousal cheat: Husband/Wife of [sic] boyfriend/girlfriend suspecting their other half of cheating or any other suspicious behavior or if they just want to monitor them’,” the FBI statement said. “Language and testimonials on the StealthGenie website focused significantly on potential purchasers who did not have any ownership interest in the mobile phone to be monitored, including those suspecting a spouse or romantic partner of infidelity. The indictment alleges that Akbar and his co-conspirators fabricated the testimonials.”

How to Spy on Cell Phones Remotely? from StealthGenie

The company also marketed the app as a way for parents to track their children, Ars Technica reported, as StealthGenie can also record conversations near the phone, not just when the phone is in use. In many states, it is illegal to record a conversation without one or both parties involved consenting to the recording.

The indictment against Akbar is the first time charges have been brought against someone for spyware on the mobile market. Meanwhile, StealthGenie, among other spyware apps, is readily available online for the iPhone, Android and Blackberry.