2 On Your Side Special Report: Cell Spy


by Jane McCarthy and KREM.com


Posted on April 27, 2012 at 2:26 PM

SPOKANE, Wash. -- Cell phones are commonplace and convenient, but they're also the source of a growing concern: cell phone spyware.

The spyware is marketed to suspicious spouses, parents and employers and it allows you to secretly turn just about any phone into a high tech spying device. 

KREM 2 News asked a KREM employee that doesn’t work in the newsroom named Katie to have spyware installed on her phone.

From there all we had to do was dial her phone and on her end the spyware secretly and silently turned her phone into a speaker so we could bug her office.

As Katie talked behind closed doors we could listen in on her conversation no matter how far away we were from the office.

The entire time the phone was sitting next to Katie with no indication it was even on.

It's only when we hung up that there's a fleeting spyware sign--the screen on Katie's phone flashes, but that could easily be explained away.

"I would have thought maybe I'd passed through an odd service spot,” said Katie.  “I would never have thought that someone was spying on my phone.  I would have thought that something else had registered on my phone.  Maybe an email or text message."

From any computer with this spyware we could also read Katie's text messages and emails, see who she's calling and who's calling her.  We could also track her location.  Some spyware even promises to let you listen in on actual phone calls.

"It's pretty scary," said Katie.

Bill Butkus is a private investigator with G.T. Investigations.  He doesn't use spyware, but knows some of his clients have.

“It's legal to own it and possess it, but it's not legal to use it," said Butkus.

Despite the fact that websites will tell you spyware is legal, the Washington State Attorney General's Office told KREM 2 news: “Cell phone spyware is illegal in Washington, unless you've consented to have the software installed on your phone and for others to listen.  It's on the same scale as illegal wiretapping."

Idaho's Attorney General office has a similar take, saying "it would be a felony under the computer crime law and electronic surveillance act."

But that doesn't stop some people from using it anyway.  It could also be a tool for identity thieves.

"So all of your info could be out there,” said Butkus.  “Social security, bank accounts, access codes, all that good stuff."

Someone needs to have access to your phone for a few minutes in order to download the software.  So the best protection is to keep your cell close.

“You might want to think twice about leaving it sitting on your desk when you walk away because you don't know who could be stalking you or who wants to know what you're doing," said Butkus.

"It's creepy,” said Katie.  “It's a total invasion of your privacy."
There are some subtle signs your phone might have spyware:
• An unusually high bill could be a sign of increased activity
• Spy software uses your phone's battery, so it might be dying quickly
• You may see some subtle phone flashes or hear background noise
• If you try shutting down your cell and it doesn't respond, that could be another spyware sign

If you think you're a victim, it's best to take your phone to your provider and have the operating system re-installed.