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Spyware sold on the Open Market

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You’ve heard of spyware, right? Spyware comes in the form of a virus and as a commercially available and legal software. It’s illegal for a stranger (or even someone you know, unless they own the device, and you just use it) to install spyware on your computer or smartphone and spy on you.

However, many parents—perhaps you yourself—use this very same technology to keep tabs on their kids’ computer and smartphone activities. And it’s perfectly legal to do so. It’s referred to as domestic surveillance. And frankly, if you have a 12 year old daughter with a mobile phone, it’s not a bad idea to know what she’s up to and who she’s chatting with. If you have a 14 year old boy you definitely want to know what he’s up to because I was 14 once and dang, I was up to no good!

There are many clever apps that can monitor your kids’ online activities. Depending on their features these apps can do anything you order them to upon installation, including track where your children are in physical space, monitor their text messages, videos and photos sent and received, calls made and received and sometimes even the websites they visit. For parents, this may provide a significant degree of insight and peace of mind.

There are two versions: One lets the user know it’s running by showing an icon, and one that, while running, does not let the user know it (the second version is great for parents—but also precisely what a criminal wants).

Outside of parental monitoring, this kind of technology is considered “spyware,” though the vendors who promote these applications market them as smart ways of remotely watching over your kids.

You can clearly see how this kind of app can be abused: installed on, for instance, an ex-lover’s device. You can see those worms slithering out of that opened can. However, parameters regarding what’s legit and what’s illegal with these kinds of apps have not been universally spelled out—they are somewhat blurred.

But case-by-case incidents are making marks, such as the former U.S. sheriff who was given a probationary sentence because he installed one of these apps on his wife’s work computer to spy on her.

Protection from Spyware

Apps such as described above can be installed remotely, not just directly. You can protect your device as follows:

  • Androids have many more options for spyware whereas iPhones, unless jailbroken do not.
  • It’s crucial for your device to have some kind of spyware protection. Most antivirus programs will recognize spyware.
  • Never click on a link in an e-mail or text, as it can direct you to a malicious download.
  • Never separate from your device when you’re in public; never let anyone use it. If they claim they need to make a call due to an emergency, you can make the call.
  • Your mobile should require a password for access. A password-protected phone makes spyware installation difficult.
  • If your phone has seemingly developed a mind of its own, or it’s “behaving” oddly lately, this probably means it’s been possessed by spyware. If you believe your phone’s been bugged with spyware, then reinstall its operating system. Simply confer with the device’s user manual. Or, call the carrier’s customer service for instructions.
  • If you are considering installing spyware on someone’s device, consider the legality of your actions first, determine if the installation is one that involves an open and honest conversation or will be done covertly and then consider this: just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Think about what you are doing and the repercussions it may have.

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.

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