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This is what Spy Software looks like

If you’ve ever watched virtually any spy flick or James Bond movie you’re familiar with “bugs” – those little dime-sized metallic things that the bad guys would secretly stick under someone’s desk to record any conversation in the room—picked up by a receiver in their car. Or, the phone was “tapped” – the device was inside the receiver.

2WHow primitive! Because these days, all of your computer, mobile, tablet and online activities can be “bugged” – without someone ever coming into your home or office—remote spying—done with spyware. They know what you’re posting to Facebook, what videos you’re watching, what secrets you’re telling or hiding—anything and everything. They may even be watching YOU as you type or recording your keystrokes.

Spyware companies sell the technology and it’s legal to purchase. Spyware ranges from $40 to $200 a month. Based on their sales, it’s feasible that millions of Internet users are being spied on.

Selling spyware is perfectly legal, as mentioned, even though this can get into the wrong hands. But it’s akin to the legal sales and use of knives. In the wrong hands, even a butter knife could be a dangerous weapon.

Though some spyware devices must be installed physically on the target’s device (e.g., wife installing on her husband’s device, employer installing on employee device, parent on child’s device), some devices can be installed remotely.

This isn’t as techy as you think. The spyware companies want to make money, so they’ve made it easy to install and use their products. Parents wanting to know what’s going on with their teenagers are drawn to this technology. So are psycho-stalkers.

Spyware is a big hit with people wanting to find out if their spouse or significant other is cheating on them, and many even focus on this in their ads. Another demographic that’s drawn to spyware are employers who want to see what their employees are up to.

But let’s not forget that a thief could spy on someone to get their credit card number, passwords and other crucial information and then use it to drain their bank accounts, max out their credit card or open a new credit card under their name and go wild with it.

Spyware can also be used to eavesdrop on phone calls after the snooper (or stalker) puts the app in the phone. There are cases in which abusive men did just this to their partner’s phone after the partner fled from them, then tracked them down and committed violence against them. So should spyware be banned? Well, it goes back to the butter knife analogy.

Spyware gets away with legality because of its strong legitimacy in terms of parents keeping an eye on their kids, and employers monitoring employees whom they think are goofing off on the job. However, an employer can take it further and “follow” where the employee goes on lunch break or to see if they went to that big basketball game when they called in sick.

That’s pushing it, but it can go even further: The spyware customer could intercept phone calls, text messages and anything else the unsuspecting target does on their smartphone. However, even though spyware came out in the mid ‘90s, there have been only three prosecutions. If it’s ever outlawed, parents will go berserk.

How many times have you read about something horrible that a teenager did, that was somehow connected to their online activities, and you thought, “Where were the parents when all this was going on? Weren’t they monitoring their kid’s online activities? Didn’t the parents care what their child was doing online?” Etc., etc.?

If these parents had had one of these spyware programs, maybe they would have nipped their kids’ problems in the bud and prevented tragedy. But don’t let these cases fool you: Parents make up a large percentage of spyware customers.

Critics of spyware won’t back down, including legislators, and maybe that’s why some companies are requiring customers to identify themselves as parents or employers in order to use their applications. This sounds more like defensive TOS, since anyone can claim they’re a parent or workplace supervisor without having to prove it. What’s a company really going to do…send out a private investigator to see if the new user really DOES have a teenager?

Now that you know more about spyware, how can you prevent someone from bugging your phone or computer? Keep your devices locked. Never leave your phone where someone can get to it.

Robert Siciliano is an Identity Theft Expert to Hotspot Shield. He is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen See him discussing internet and wireless security on Good Morning America. Disclosures.

10 Easy Ways to hide from spies

Who would have ever thought that that marvelous invention, the smartphone, as well as your tablet and PC, would give you cause for concern about hiding from spies? And when I say spies I mean anyone who has a vested interest in your information whether that is governments foreign or domestic or a spouse, employer, marketer or just some freaky weirdo.

11D Today’s technological conveniences also act as portals through which the spies can gain access to your personal information. As a security analyst, I’ve come up with the following:

Easy Ways You Can Hide Your Data from the spies

  1. Use a VPN (virtual private network) such as Hotspot Shield VPN when online. This way your data traffic is encrypted—and thus difficult to detect by spies or any hackers, whether you use a phone, computer or tablet. Data transmission may still occur due to ads, but the VPN will put a stifling effect on it.
  1. Use Tor. You can hide from mass and corporate surveillance with a Tor installation—which the National Security Agency does not like—because it works.
  1. While playing games put your mobile device into airplane mode (which suspends data transmission). You don’t need to be online to play all games. Being offline means your personal data can’t be transmitted.
  1. HTTPS! Install HTTPS Everywhere, a browser plugin for Chrome, Firefox and Opera. It’s free, though currently not available for smartphones. HTTPS means security on the visited web site.
  1. Post on social media only when you’re connected with your password-protected, secure workplace or home Wi-Fi. And in some cases you may need to post via computer, not your smartphone!
  1. Hard drive encryption. A person who uses your computer or mobile will not be able to copy its data if you have an encrypted hard drive. Local storage can be encrypted on the latest versions of Windows, Macs, iOS and Android.
  1. Turn off cellular data connections. Unless you absolutely must know every single e-mail that’s coming in when you’re out and about, switch off the cellular data. Check your e-mail only when you’re on a secure network.
  1. Turn off the GPS and Wi-Fi on your mobile device. GPS, Wi-Fi and geolocation can pinpoint your location fast. Keep them off unless you need them (lost in the wilderness?). To turn off geolocation, start with your apps that take photos, then do the rest. Then you won’t have to worry about government agents finding you.
  1. Dumb down. Your phone, that is. If you’re really concerned about privacy, ditch the smartphone and use a “dumb” phone also known as a “feature phone”. Though even a simple cellphone can be used as a tracking device, it makes it hard for anyone to get your location and data since you can’t get on social media or play online games with a dumb phone.
  1. Never open e-mails with a blank subject line. Though your spacey friend may neglect to type into the subject line, a blank subject field can also mean a virus waiting to make its move. If the sender is familiar, send them a newly created message asking if they just sent you something with a blank subject line.

So there you have it: 10 ways that pretty much work to keep hidden from the spies and all other snoops.

Robert Siciliano is an Identity Theft Expert to Hotspot Shield VPN. He is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen See him discussing internet and wireless security on Good Morning America. Disclosures.

Supercookies: What Websites Know About You

Most major websites now install cookies on your computer, which track what you do online. Over time, these cookies develop a profile, which becomes your digital fingerprint, to a certain extent. You may have noticed after searching for a specific product, advertisements for that particular product or brand appearing on various other websites you visit.

The New York Times reports , “advertisers are increasingly using powerful software known as supercookies, such as so-called Flash and document object management (or DOM) cookies, which can hold more information, and Web bugs or beacons, which let sites record statistics like what ads attracted you to the site and whether you bought something. They are not removed when you clear out your cookies.”

The “harm” done here is less damaging than it is invasive. Meaning I don’t see any physical harm or identity theft ever happening as a result of this refined marketing. More so, it is very intrusive to some peoples web surfing habits and the collecting of this type of information will continually define what we are presented when we travel to different websites.

With numerous privacy watchdogs taking this kind of advertising offensively, and the Obama administration now stepping in, we will surely see standards in this kind of marketing practice appear over the next few years.

The NYT post HERE provides a litany of resources to combat supercookies. Another great resource from Linda Criddle HERE

Robert Siciliano personal security expert to Home Security Source discussing advertisers using “Internet spying” on Fox News.