Spy technology has advanced at an incredible pace. Capabilities today make Cold War era spy tradecraft not only obsolete, but silly. However, perhaps the most remarkable espionage gadgetry ever employed against a target has been self-inflicted. Our digitized world of wireless communications and uploaded lives has given intelligence collectors a bonanza of information that only a couple of decades ago they couldn’t have imagined in their wildest dreams. Imagine the capability to turn on all of the phone cameras in a given area such as an airport or even a city and run facial recognition software to identify a targeted person? This technology exists and is in use today. This rapid advance in spy technology has not only been used by intelligence agencies, but criminals, media outlets, police, and marketers. This growing obsession to acquire your personal information has made you a target for collectors of all sorts. If you value your privacy and do not want to be completely vulnerable the following tips will help you protect yourself when using a smart phone.
First, understand that anything you do electronically can be monitored if you carry and use a smartphone. This includes tweets, posts, purchases, bank transactions, text messages, conversations, pictures, and where you go. Your smart phone can also communicate with other wireless enabled devices to trade information from your pocket or purse without your knowledge. Even more Orwellian is the fact all of these data are mined and run through algorithms to create profiles of you. These profiles are used for everything from learning your shopping habits and targeting marketing to flagging you as a terrorist. Of course some of you are saying “well I have nothing to hide so I am not worried.” If you think you have nothing to hide and are that dumb or naïve, read closely. This is important to you and you DO have a vested interest in privacy…that is unless you wouldn’t mind a thief knowing your credit card numbers and when you purchase a new TV, a pedophile knowing when and where you drop off your kids, an ex-girlfriend or spouse reading your emails, your family photos being posted on the world-wide web, your private medical data being made public, or being placed on a terrorist watch list. Oh, and for those that think you could never be falsely placed on a terrorist watch list or no fly list, suffice to say we all know algorithms “never” make a mistake or fail. Just ask around how the late “Senator” Ted Kennedy wound up on a no fly list!
The bottom line if you insist on using a smart phone, but want to maintain as much of your privacy as possible, follow these rules:
- Don’t take pictures with anything that transmits a wireless signal or GPS tags it;
- Don’t store pictures on your phone or take any pictures you don’t want others to see;
- Remove the battery when not in use;
- Always remove the battery from the phone during private face-to-face conversation;
- Don’t speak about sensitive issues over the phone;
- Cover your phone’s camera with a Band-Aid when not using it;
- Disable and do not use Bluetooth devices;
- Use complex passwords;
- Do not store passwords on your phone;
- Encrypt data
- Do not download or enable GPS software on your phone;
- Use rechargeable throwaway phones bought with cash;
- Don’t conduct financial transactions over a phone;
- Avoid using email on a phone;
- Never auto update your position to social network sites;
- Avoid downloading social media to your phone;
- And make sure others around you employ the same safeguards.
Following these rules will go a long way in protecting your privacy. Disregard them at your own peril. For example, everyone should know that with the right gear, wireless conversations via a Bluetooth device (Wi-Fi) can be listened to from well over a mile away under the right conditions. With scanners, your entire cell conversation can be listened to anywhere it is in range of repeating towers. Further, a phone can be turned on remotely to listen to your conversation, record conversation, film video, take pictures, and then send them to the hacker. To protect this in your home, the simplest fix is to pull the battery out of your phone. However, to be completely sure, you can also place your smart phone in a metal box that shields it from any electronic transmissions. The thicker the metal the better, just make sure the inside of the box is lined with something non-conductive such as cardboard or plastic and it closes tightly. Otherwise, you may inadvertently make a bigger antenna for your smart phone if your phone is in direct contact with the metal. You can use aluminum foil layers to add to the shielding capability of the box. Test this by sealing your phone tightly in the box and then attempting to call it or connect to it with Bluetooth. If that fails, you have effectively shielded your phone. Just place a box by your door and drop your phone in it when you come into the office, car, or your home. Establishing this pattern will prevent much of your unwanted eavesdropping.
For those that want maximum security, but can’t do without a cell phone, use the lowest tech disposable phone you can find. Buy it in cash and anonymously activate it. Never place the battery in it or turn it on near your residence. Not even once. Only place the battery in the phone and use it when ready and in a public place so that you maintain location anonymity. Never use a data plan or attempt to use it for instant messaging, chat, tweets, or email. Never store personal numbers or any other information on it. Instead, keep a hand written black book of contacts. Change the phone regularly or use it only once for the most sensitive conversations. When done with the phone, wipe it clean and place it in a public trash can or leave it on a bench for someone else to pick up and use.
Using spy lingo, your phone is a literally self-implanted bug that is better than anything the KGB could have ever hoped to plant on a person. It tracks, it listens, it records, it takes pictures and video, and it even reads your email! Ultimately, your best privacy will be to totally unplug from digital items, but in today’s world, that is nearly impossible within the United States and Europe. Nonetheless, being cognitive of your digital signature and taking smart precautions will go far to protect your privacy.