FBI closes down invisible smartphone ‘stalker app’ which allowed users remote real-time access to victims’ calls, texts, and photos without their knowledge

By on October 1, 2014

The FBI has closed down a website selling a ‘spyware’ app which allowed people complete access to their victim’s smartphones, including all calls and texts as well as operating the phone’s microphone turning the device into a powerful bug.

Federal investigators arrested Pakistani national Hammad Akbar, 31, from Lahore in Los Angeles on Saturday for selling his StealthGenie app, which was marketed as undetectable and untraceable.

According to the indictment, the app allowed the interception of all incoming and outgoing calls on a mobile phone to be monitored in real time. It also gave the user complete access to all data on the victims phone while also allowing them to monitor all conversations within 15 feet of the handset

The company boasted it had more than 100,000 ‘satisfied customers’ for the $59.99 app before the website was blocked by the the FBI

Andrew McCabe, assistant director of the Washington Field Office said: ‘This application allegedly equips potential stalkers and criminals with a means to invade an individual’s confidential communications.

‘They do this not by breaking into their homes or offices, but by physically installing spyware on unwitting victims’ phones and illegally tracking an individual’s every move.’

According to the FBI, users of the app only need to access the phone for a couple of minutes to install the software, which works on Apple, Android and Blackberry type handsets.

The FBI said: ‘StealthGenie’s capabilities included recording and intercepting calls and monitoring e-mails, text messages, voicemails, photos, videos, and calendar appointments. The software could also activate a victim’s phone to eavesdrop on conversations within a 15-foot radius. All the communications could be viewed on a web-based dashboard.’

The app was developed by InvoCode Pvt Ltd who are based in Lahore, Pakistan, but the company had a data centre in Asburn Virginia.

The FBI secured a court order on September 26 to temporarily take the service off-line while the investigation continues.

According to the FBI: ‘This is the first-ever criminal case concerning the advertisement and sale of a mobile device spyware app. Marketing for the app targeted people suspicious that their spouses or romantic partners might be cheating on them.’

Leslie Caldwell, assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division said: ‘Selling spyware is not just reprehensible, it’s a crime.

‘Apps like StealthGenie are expressly designed for use by stalkers and domestic abusers who want to know every detail of a victim’s personal life – all without the victim’s knowledge. The Criminal Division is committed to cracking down on those who seek to profit from technology designed and used to commit brazen invasions of individual privacy.’

‘StealthGenie has little use beyond invading a victim’s privacy’ said U.S. Attorney Boente. ‘Advertising and selling spyware technology is a criminal offense, and such conduct will be aggressively pursued by this office and our law enforcement partners.’

According to the indictment, Akbar and his co-conspirators allegedly programmed StealthGenie to synchronise all the data from the victim’s phone with their customer’s account to all them access to the handset over the internet.

Prosecutors allege: ‘To install the app, a purchaser needed to obtain physical control over the phone to be monitored for only a few minutes. The purchaser could then review communications intercepted from the monitored phone without ever again having physical control over the phone. Akbar and others alleged designed SteathGenie to be undetectable to users of the phone.’

The indictment claims that the app was designed for suspicious husbands or wives who suspected their partners of cheating or ‘if they just want to monitor them’.

According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3): ‘ The purchaser can review information transferred from the target mobile phone via an online portal. These intercepted communications are stored on the StealthGenie website. For example, a purchaser can log-in to the online portal to access information pulled from the user’s phone such as messages, e-mail, photos, and phone calls.

‘Mobile device spyware apps are developed and advertised as being invisible to targets and act in an undetectable manner. For example, an app can be installed to look like another type of app or file, such as a digital photo application.

‘Therefore, it will be difficult for the non-expert user to determine whether or not spyware is on his or her phone.’

According to IC3, anyone who suspects they may have spyware on their mobile phone should immediately perform a factory reset which will delete all data and apps installed after the handset was purchased

About EKELEME JUDITH OLUCHI

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