7 Everyday Techs Spying on You
Don't look now, but just about every gadget in your vicinity has the capability of spying on you.
Though it's a false one, many people still have the impression that if they were being spied on, it would go down like this: shadowy figures in dark sunglasses, armed with binoculars and telephoto lenses, stalking them in unmarked vans while monitoring complex surveillance networks of wiretaps and planted bugs.
However, today's snoopers can skip all the clicheed plots from espionage thrillers and plug directly into the mainframe. Unfortunately for you, in the hands of hackers and corporate agents, much of the technology you interact with everyday can track your every move.
Set aside all of your social media accounts, your browser searchers and any other digital footprints you leave scattered about the Internet. Instead, consider the camera lens -- either on laptops or desktops -- that most people have pointing directly at them whenever they log on. It's been well documented that those webcams can be easily switched on from remote locations.
There is no shortage of tracking software and programs for lost or stolen laptops. The Find My Mac service for iCloud works on Apple's fleet of computers and devices, using GPS data to locate, lock or erase computers, iPhones and iPads. Additional programs like Hidden and Undercover even lets users snap screengrabs and photos of a thief's activity. While such applications are meant for personal security, should a hacker, thief or spy gain access to passwords, goodbye privacy.
Programs like GoToMyPC also allows users to control their computers remotely via the Internet. Once the application is downloaded, a person can use another computer to control features such as a webcam or microphone on the host computer.
Most security experts recommend a two-step verification process to thwart hackers, but I've heard of many people taking a more low-tech approach: sticking a piece of black electrical tape over the webcam lens. As for the microphone and screen activity, that's a different story.
Illuminating Concepts, a lighting manufacturer based out of Farmington Hills, Mich., has installed Intellistreets in sections of towns across the United States, and even London. The wireless street lamp posts can be remotely operated and were designed for municipalities, entertainment venues and campuses to bolster sustainability and security.
The streetlights boast a sound system and digital signage to broadcast real-time information to crowds, visual and audio emergency alerts, energy-efficient lighting, cameras, microphones and two-way communication features.
While the company maintains that Intellistreets are purposed for homeland security, traffic control, public safety and advertising, discerning citizens who value their privacy and freedom likely won't be hip to the idea of streetlights being equipped with such authority.
Security expert and independent journalist Jacob Appelbaum recently told a hacker conference in Germany that the National Security Agency has the ability to turn iPhones into instruments of eavesdropping.
At Hamburg's Chaos Communications Conference, according to the Associated Press, Applebaum said the NSA's capabilities are "are even worse than your worst nightmares."
During his presentation, Applebaum showed a slide detailing how the NSA can deposit malicious software called DOPOUTJEEP on an iPhone that "utilizes modular mission applications to provide specific SIGINT functionality" and basically turn the device into a pocket-sized double agent.
"This functionality includes the ability to remotely push/pull files from the device, SMS retrieval, contact list retrieval, voicemail, geolocation, hot mic, camera capture, cell tower location, etc.," the slide explained.
"Apple has never worked with the NSA to create a backdoor in any of our products, including iPhone," the company told All Things D. "Additionally, we have been unaware of this alleged NSA program targeting our products."
There are cameras on your phone, computer and gaming systems. Plus, you willingly submit to algorithms on websites like Netflix and Pandora that recommend movies and music based on your viewing and listening habits. Naturally, Intel wants to combine the two.
With the company's in-the-works Web TV service, the unit reportedly will feature a built-in camera in an aim to personalize the user experience by making program suggestions based on viewing habits. As well, advertisers can expect to have their pockets lined by targeting ads to third parties.
Eric Huggers, Intel Media's corporate vice president, says he thinks viewers will eventually warm up to the idea of having a camera watching them, but if not, there's a flap to cover up the lens.
Last spring, the Walt Disney Resort in Orlando launched MyMagic+, a program that integrated an interactive website and mobile app with an electronic bracelet that guests use as a theme-park ticket, room key and payment account.
The so-called MagicBands are equipped with radio-frequency identification technology, or RFID tags, and monitor what rides visitors frequent, which characters they interact with, what they buy and where they go within the park.
While Tom Staggs, chairman of Disney Parks and Resorts, asserted that the RFID bracelets are optional for park visitors, some privacy proponents are up in arms, especially since the bracelets could be used on children.
Now that the "Internet of Things" is being slapped onto just about any home appliance you can think of, it's possible to brew a pot of coffee, preheat your oven, start the dishwasher or activate a load of laundry from remote locations via a smartphone, computer or tablet.
Cool as the effects of a so-called smart home may be, all that geo-tagged data can be used against you should you become "a person of interest" to a spy. What time you make a pot of coffee or dry your load of whites may sound like harmless information, but for someone out to pin down your habits, those details can be a gold mine. Even thermostats, air conditioners and security systems are vulnerable.
Before resigning in 2012, former CIA Director David Petraeus was all but salivating about what the "Internet of Things" could do for "clandestine tradecraft."
"Items of interest will be located, identified, monitored and remotely controlled through technologies such as radio-frequency identification, sensor networks, tiny embedded servers and energy harvesters -- all connected to the next-generation Internet using abundant, low-cost and high-power computing," Petraeus said, according to Wired.
When former Vice President Dick Cheney had a medical device implanted to regulate his heartbeat in 2007, he had his doctors deactivate its wireless capabilities to thwart any assignation attempts.
If you think that's just a plot from "Homeland," think again. Before his mysterious death, White Hat hacker Barnaby Jack proved he could kill a diabetic person from 300 feet away simply by programming an insulin pump to deliver a lethal dose. Jack additionally claimed that he had proof that pacemakers like Cheney's could also be hacked.