Cell phones and privacy protection - 13 WTHR Indianapolis

Cell phones and privacy protection

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Rick Mislan Rick Mislan
Private investigator Tim Wilcox Private investigator Tim Wilcox
Bob Segall/13 Investigates

Indianapolis - After 13 Investigates aired its report "Tapping your cell phone," viewers wrote in with questions.

The latest spy technology for cell phones is easy to find on the internet. 13 Investigates bought some spy software and, with the permission of a WTHR producer, downloaded it onto her cell phone.

What happened next is pretty spooky. I was able to listen in to her phone conversations, read her text messages, and no matter where she went with her cell phone, I got constant satellite updates on her location. I could literally track her movements anywhere she went.

Right after our investigation aired, emails started pouring in with lots of questions and concerns like this one from Bridget. She writes, "If I have the cell phone spyware on my cell phone, how would I find that out? How do I get rid of it?"

Richard Mislan is a cyber forensics specialist at Purdue University, and he's pulled lots of hidden information off of cell phones. But he says even for a cyber detective, spy software is almost impossible to detect.

"We can get the phone and look at it and it's not there so it's hidden," he said.

You can look for subtle signs yourself. For example, if your phone lights up for no apparent reason, or if it feels warm to the touch when you're not using it, that could mean the phone is actually in use and being tapped.

As far as how you get rid of spy software, you don't. You need a secret pass code to deactivate the program. If you don't have it, you're out of luck. At that point, you need a new phone.

Mandy sent this question: To tap your phone, "Is all a person needs is your cell phone number or does the person actually need your cell phone?"

The software used by 13 Investigates for our demonstration did require that we have physical possession of the cell phone. It took about ten minutes to download the spy program. But someone can tap your phone without ever laying hands on it, according to private investigator Tim Wilcox.

"There's more sophisticated devices where you can do it remotely where you don't have to have possession of the phone to do it," said Wilcox.

Here's a question from Robert. He says, "I have a friend that suspects her cell phone has been tapped. Her phone often has strange background noises when in use. How can she find out if her phone is tapped?"

In that situation, get ready to play detective. Tim Wilcox says it's time for something called disinformation.

"The person who suspects their cell phone is bugged would carry on a conversation they've already pre-scripted with somebody else that has information so sensational, it would drive the third party, the bad guy, crazy and then they would make some contact or say something or get back to them so they'd know they third party is actually monitoring them," said Wilcox.

The last question comes from Laurie who said, "Tell me which software you purchased that actually worked. My girlfriend has purchased two and they don't seem to be working for her."

Sorry, Laurie. We're not telling you because anyone who wants spy software is probably up to no good.

"A lot of this is totally illegal," said Mislan.

Rick Mislan says if you spy on someone's cell phone without their permission, you can go to jail. "You're giving up all of your privacy by someone tapping into your phone so this is totally illegal."

One more thing you should know, the fancier your phone, the more you may be at risk. Some spy software won't work on basic cell phones. But if you have a phone that connects you to the internet, it's much easier to tap into.

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