Wednesday July 24, 2024

Smartphone a perfect bugging device

Latest audio leaks scandal, which has raised serious questions over cyber security of the Prime Minister’s House

By Ansar Abbasi
September 27, 2022
File Photo
File Photo

ISLAMABAD: For espionage, certain listening devices are used but what makes one vulnerable is one’s own smartphone, which can be penetrated without a physical touch and used as a recording device even in the case of secured apps like WhatsApp.

The latest audio leaks scandal, which has raised serious questions over cyber security of the Prime Minister’s House, has shook many, including intelligence agencies, which are presently trying to determine how the PM House was bugged.

Routine sweeping of the PM House and PM Office is done regularly but there is no mechanism to check and clean mobile phones of the prime minister, PM office staff and others. Sources in intelligence agencies explain different ways of bugging but the most dangerous in today’s scenario is through a smartphone.

Through unnoticed penetration, a smartphone, tablet or laptop can be turned into a recording device even if switched off or not internet-connected. Normal phone or mobile calls are never felt secure but what is alarming is that protected cellular calls through Apps like WhatsApp can be recorded by infecting the targeted smartphone through a file containing hidden listening software which is installed without any notice of the user.

The sources say that there are at least five types of listening devices used worldwide. Concealable transmitters are installed in a targeted room to monitor conversations there. For covert surveillance, these transmitters can be placed into any object such as a clock, belt, calculator, ashtray, under the table. These transmitters have features such as remote controlled activation, audio surveillance recorder, encrypted surveillance and data monitoring.

Power lines are also used to bug. These are listening devices and broadcast audio surveillance for extended use where continuous power exists, and audio surveillance access is difficult to get. These listening devices can operate indefinitely due to the AC power line that provides continuous power to the listening device.

There is a surveillance system known as fixed operation, which is used against hostile targets and for this a bug is fixed in a selected venue. There is also a laser technology used for espionage. The targeted room is bugged via laser approach through a glass window. But any hindrance of even a curtain disables this surveillance system.

Regarding vulnerability of mobile phones, information available on the internet says that mobile phones can be programmed not to vibrate, ring or show any outward signs that they are being called. They then auto-answer and the caller can listen in to conversation within the room.

This type of attack can either be done on a target phone which the perpetrator would then leave somewhere in the vicinity of the conversation they are targeting or it could be done illicitly by sending someone an email or text with an attachment which, once opened, would download the necessary software onto the target phone. The phone can then be controlled by the hacker who can remotely switch it on and listen from any other mobile phone anywhere in the world.

In addition, a report by Computerworld claims that some new smartphone apps are using your phones, microphone and camera to gather creepy data. A new class of App has emerged that uses the microphone built into your phone as a covert listening device. The Apps try to alleviate privacy concerns by saying they only record sound patterns, not actual sounds or conversations. But in the end, the technology is there, and it is being used to some extent.

It is said that a smartphone user should cautious when downloading. Also be cautious of using Wi-Fi connections. Unsecured networks could mean that someone else using that network could see what one is doing on phone.

It is said that even when a GSM function is disabled on a smartphone, the in-built camera can still be used as an eavesdropping device. A smartphone can be used to record video and take photos, stealing product information, prototypes etc. As it is virtually impossible to buy a mobile phone device without a camera, this is a threat which should not be ignored.