Protecting your cell phone

SMobile says its Security Shield software detects more than 400 cell phone viruses.

Bob Segall/13 Investigates

Indianapolis - Your cell phone can be secretly hijacked, allowing someone else to hear everything you say and track your every move. 13 Investigates first exposed this problem a few months ago, and now WTHR has found a possible solution to help keep your cell phone and your family safe.

All across the internet, spyware manufacturers advertise products claiming they can help someone else spy on your cell phone.

WTHR tested some of those products in November and, since then, more than 4.3 million people worldwide have watched 13 Investigates' cell phone tapping investigation.

It showed cell phone spying technology is real, allowing someone to listen in on your phone calls, read your text messages, see your downloaded photos and track your location through constant satellite updates. And even when you are not using your cell phone, someone using spy software could tap into the speaker on your phone and secretly listen in to what you are doing. It's illegal to do that to someone without her permission, but because spy software is invisible and very hard to detect, millions of cell phone users are left vulnerable.

"I think a lot of people think their cell phone calls are very secure," explained Rick Mislan, a cell phone technology expert at Purdue's Cyber Forensics Laboratory. "Our privacy isn't always what we think it is."

So how can you protect yourself from cell phone spying?

A Midwestern security software company thinks it may have the answer.

From a small room inside its headquarters in Columbus, Ohio, SMobile Systems maintains a global threat center, tracking cell phone virus attacks across the globe.

"We're literally gathering all the security events as they're taking place throughout the world," said Dan Hoffman, SMobile's chief technology officer.

Hoffman says the company has used that information to develop security software capable of detecting more than 400 viruses that could infect your cell phone, and he says the program will detect spy software, too.

13 Investigates put SMobile's Anti-theft and Identity Protection product to a test. We installed it on a cell phone, then tried to install spyware on the phone, as well. The security program identified the spyware as a virus, put it into quarantine status and gave us instructions on how to remove it. Hoffman says the product will also identify viruses and spyware that are already present.

"It literally scans and analyzes the device," Hoffman explained. "If there's anything malicious on the device, it will detect it and then it will remove the threat."

For years, the company has worked with the U.S. government and big corporations to help protect their cell phones. Now, SMobile is offering its cell phone security software to everyone. The cost: about $30 per year.

The security software has an added benefit, as well. For many cell phone models, it will help you find your phone if it is ever lost or stolen.

Utilizing GPS technology, SMobile enables its users to log onto the internet and send a satellite signal to the phone in order to pinpoint its location. WTHR tests found that feature was usually able to locate a cell phone within 100 feet -- in some cases, within 10 feet -- of its actual location. Once a phone is found, users have the option to remotely lock the phone's keypad and to erase and/or backup all its data. (Note: WTHR testing determined some phones such as a Verizon Wireless-supported Blackberry Curve 8830 was not compatible with the SMobile GPS location feature, although the virus and spyware protection seemed to work fine on all phones tested.)

As cell phones rapidly take on the features of powerful hand-held computers, SMobile believes security software for cell phones will soon be as common as that found on personal computers.

In Great Britain, British Telecom now offers SMobile security software standard on all its new cell phones. The same thing may soon be offered by wireless carriers in the United States, as well.

"Right now, we're in discussions with all the major carriers, and two years from now, we think the question won't be 'Who's offering this protection on their devices?' but 'Who isn't?'" Hoffman said. "We think consumers are going to demand it."