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  • Writer's pictureThe DigitalBank Vault

Are your cellphone camera and microphone spying on you?

Your digital device may be revealing more about you than you thought. Social media sites, apps, malware and government agencies can all get access to and lift information from your smartphone .

Who could be accessing your camera and microphone? Apps including WhatsApp, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and Viber.

Felix Krause – founder of fastlane, an open source tool that helps system developers such as iOS and Android to build and release mobile phone apps – described in 2017 that when a user grants an app access to their camera and microphone, the app could do the following:

1) access both the front and the back camera

2) record you at any time the app is in the foreground

3) take pictures and videos without telling you

4) upload the pictures and videos without telling you

5) upload the pictures/videos it takes immediately

6) run real-time face recognition to detect facial features or expressions

7) live-stream the camera on to the internet

8) detect if the user is on their phone alone, or watching together with a second person

9) upload random frames of the video stream to your web service and run a proper face recognition software which can find existing photos of you on the internet and create a 3D model based on your face.

In 2016, documentary maker Anthony van der Meer installed a Find my Phone on a handset and then let someone steal it. After the person stole it, the original owner spied on every aspect of every moment of the thief’s life through the phone’s camera and microphone.

The documentary tracks every move of this person, from brushing their teeth, to going to work. To grabbing a bite to eat with their colleague, to intimate moments with a loved one. This is the power of apps that have access to your camera and microphone.

Edward Snowden revealed an NSA program called Optic Nerves. The operation was a bulk surveillance program under which they captured webcam images every five minutes from Yahoo users’ video chats and then stored them for future use. It is estimated that between 3 per cent and 11 per cent of the images captured contained “undesirable nudity”.

Government security agencies like the NSA can also have access to your devices through built-in back doors. This means that these security agencies can tune in to your phone calls, read your messages, capture pictures of you, stream videos of you, read your emails, steal your files … whenever they please.

A good first step to counteracting these issues is study what permissions an app asks for. Does an app like LinkedIn really require camera access? Does an app like Twitter really require microphone access? Before you download an app, check out the reviews and search for any negative information about it to prevent yourself future harm.

Always make sure to cover your webcam with tape, and plug out your microphones when you’re done using them. You never know who’s watching, or what’s happening in the background on your device. It’s only paranoia until it’s too late.

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