Let's take a momentary break from the fiscal insanity that has possessed Washington of late, and talk about something else you can be afraid of. Question: do you have anti-virus software on your smartphone? Probably not, because while it will take about 10 seconds for an unprotected computer connected to the internet to be infected with all manner of malware, hackers haven't devoted much energy to targeting people's phones. Yet. But Popular Science predicts that phone hacking will be one of the big tech developments of 2013:
For the most part, smartphones have escaped the viruses and botnets that have plagued desktop computers for decades. That luck may not hold out in 2013. The learning curves of cybersecurity professionals and cybercriminals track pretty closely. If the good guys have hacked iOS and Android, the bad guys will quickly follow.
The first mobile malware attempted familiar invasions, stealing contact information and pictures from devices. But cybersecurity professionals expect a range of unconventional hacks as well. In the last couple of years, researchers have found ways to turn smartphones, with their cameras, GPS, and accelerometers, into portable spies.
Here's a description of some positively diabolical malware created by researchers at the Naval Surface Warfare Center to see what you might be able to accomplish by hijacking someone's phone. Once the software has invaded your device, it takes a bunch of pictures, which it then uses to construct a 3-D model of your environment. And of course, it can track your movements with the phone's GPS and turn on the microphone to listen to your conversations.
You can see why the military is interested in this; if you could get that software on, say, Ayatollah Khamenei's phone, it would provide valuable intelligence. But the possibility that you or I could be carrying around a device in our pockets that is sending all sorts of information about what we're doing right now to someone who wants to steal from us or do some other kind of harm is pretty frightening. On the other hand, it probably won't be long before someone uses the same principles to create a souped-up version of FourSquare called something like InstaLifeCast that broadcasts to the world exactly what you're doing, and a certain number of idiots actually sign up for it.
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