Electronic Spying & Your Cell Phone: Protecting Your Family Law Clients

Welcome back to Law Tips. I’m pleased to continue the discussion of digital evidence with valuable commentary on electronic surveillance by Tim Wilcox, of International Investigators, Inc. In last week’s Law Tips our family law panel offered interesting information on current trends in digital evidence and a few pointers for keeping your clients private activities private. If you missed it, you’ll find that post at the conclusion of this article.

Have you had experiences with clients, or perhaps on your own, that made you suspicious that activities may have been surveilled through a cell phone? Would you recognize the signs of spyware? Tim Wilcox assures you  that illegal surveillance through a cell phone is a definite possibility. The following are facts and examples he offers to assist you in providing counsel and making a decision on how to proceed in this digital age.

Cell Phone Spyware Facts:

  • The manner in which spyware is installed on the phone is dependent upon the capabilities of the phone itself.
  • Smart phones can have spyware downloaded from websites, Bluetooth connection, mms messages, and pc connection.
  • There is no single spyware program that can be installed on all phones since there are many different OS’s and each one must have code written for the specific OS.
  • Symbian OS is the most common OS but has hundreds if not thousands of different versions depending on the software development intended on the device. Many spyware programs cannot work for more than a few versions, if even more than one version.
  • Spyware programs that can be installed via Bluetooth connection claim to be able to install software remotely but as with all Bluetooth devices it must have been paired with the target phone first.
  • It is possible for the remote installation of spyware onto a target phone, but this involves “tricking” the user into downloading and installing the malware.
  • Sending bogus mms messages with the intent to install malware is the easiest way to trick a target user. By sending messages with fake links could get the user to unknowingly download spyware programs. Most of these attacks involve making the user think the messages came from the carrier and posing as upgrades to the firmware on the phone especially through email. Some techniques use photos embedded with third party stegnography hiding the spyware.
  • Some spyware claims that it can extract data and voice from a target phone without installing any spyware on the target phone. We are still researching a specific software with this claim but at this time we can neither confirm nor deny this possibility.
  • Spyware programs can collect the following information and possibly more: contact data, mms, sms, phone call history, email history, webpage history, pictures, video, GPS location, cell tower triangulation history (less accurate), file system information.
  • Spyware programs can remotely become a covert third party to conversations as well as use the phone as a bug so that room audio is available whenever the bad guy chooses. The spyware can alert the bad guy when a call is made as well as texts and emails so they can call the phone and listen in. No call history for the bad guys phone is saved on the phone although it will show up in the service providers records.
  • As far as prevention of spyware installation is concerned, Blackberry’s have the best protection by far. The security code can only be guessed a certain number of times before it completely erases all information from the phone and has no obvious “backdoor” to circumvent this issue. Other phones can be protected more or less by passwords but the password must not be too easy to guess and some phones can allow a reset of the password, which is not that hard to accomplish in the wrong hands.
  • There is no known blanket spyware protections that will protect all cell phones.

What Are Some Indicators That My Cell Phone Might Have Malware/Spyware?

Top 10 suspicious indicators that your cell phone might have illegally installed spyware:

  1. Battery is warm when not in use
  2. Battery life is noticeably diminished each day.
  3. Some Blackberry’s; communication icon on right screen is flashing.
  4. Small pauses of audible communication while talking.
  5. Light audible tones, beeps or clicks throughout conversation.
  6. Flashing or flickering on display or change of brightness.
  7. Some spyware programs require the spy to manually mute their phone, therefore you might hear them in the background at the beginning of conversation or when they tap in.
  8. Slower internet access.
  9. Suspicious 3rd parties have detailed knowledge of your private conversations and locations. (GPS)
  10. You have opened a suspicious email or one from a potential spy. (Allowing Trojan horse to install spyware remotely)

The smarter the cell phones the easier it is to hide spyware. If the eavesdropping perpetrator has effectively installed spyware on your phone, then that perpetrator has total control, i.e. obtain all text messages, emails, internet sites visited GPS location, photos and videos obtained, etc.

Can I Examine the Cell Phone Myself to Obtain Evidence?

It is nearly impossible on most phones to detect malware without the use of sophisticated software. Not only is forensic spyware detection software expensive, it is also highly complex and difficult to master. Furthermore, the software is only as good as the examiner who utilizes it. The examiner must not only know how to operate the software to its full potential but also be able to manually search through the data (lines of code) to find the spyware. This is particularly useful if any evidence obtained is to be introduced into a court of law.Credibility is very important in technical evidence.

Making the right decisions on acquiring and protecting digital evidence is becoming more important every day in the family law practice. I thank Tim Wilcox for providing an introduction to the cell phone spyware facts that could be effecting clients as we speak. Find more digital surveillance information at: www.iiiweb.net.   And keep an eye on this blog for more advice.

If you are interested in viewing the comprehensive On Demand or Video Replay presentation of “Electronic Spying and Tracking Spouses in Divorces:  What’s Available? What’s Appropriate?” from ICLEF’s Annual Family Law Institute, Click Here.


About our Law Tips faculty participants:
Tim Wilcox, International Investigators, Inc, CEO, Indianapolis, is a skilled and well-known Indiana investigator.  He specializes in security consultation, internal theft investigations, protection of proprietary information and communications, computer and cellular forensics, and litigation support.  He has been instrumental in reducing corporate shrinkage and eliminating vulnerabilities for companies worldwide. Mr. Wilcox is a member of the World Association of Detectives, the National Assn. Of Legal Investgators, the Society for Competitive Intelligence Professionals, the American Society for Industrial Security and the Indiana Association of Professional Investigators.

About our Law Tips blogger:
Nancy Hurley has long-standing connections with Indiana lawyers. She was formerly a member of the ISBA and IBF staffs for over 30 years. Nancy’s latest lifestyle venture is with ICLEF. We are utilizing her exceptional writing and interviewing skills while exploring how her Indiana-lawyer background fits with ICLEF’s needs. When she isn’t ferreting out new topics for Law Tips, her work can be found in our Speaker Spotlight blogs, postings on the ICLEF Facebook and Twitter pages, and other places her legal experience lends itself.

Thank you for reading Law Tips. You may subscribe to this weekly blog through the RSS link at the top of this page.  Also, you are encouraged to comment below or email Nancy. She welcomes your input as she continues to sift through the treasure trove of knowledge of our CLE faculty to share with you.

ICLEF • Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum, Indianapolis, IN


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