The Apps Your Partner Could Be Using to Spy on You

Someone could be spying on you right now and you might not even know about it.

“These apps are brutal,” Ondrej Krehel told me during a conversation about spyware, or “spouseware” as the software is sometimes called.

“It doesn’t matter what ‘intended use’ these app developers claim in their sales pitches. They are increasingly being used by teens to spy on their love interests,” Krehel said. “It’s quite prevalent.”

Krehel is CEO and founder of LIFARS, a digital forensics and cybersecurity intelligence firm. He sees spyware as a concern for consumers.

“The malware that is used to spy on terrorists and other criminals is not too different from the spyware currently marketed to consumers — although it has fewer features,” Krehel said.

What ‘Spouseware’ Can Do

FlexiSpy, mSpy and Mobile Spy are some of the names in the consumer spyware app business. The applications make it possible to monitor virtually every communication made on a targeted smartphone or computer.

The various spyware, or spouseware, apps available on the market can let users see absolutely everything that happens on a device. It’s like a surveillance camera pointed at the user’s screen.

Here’s an at-a-glance list of what kind of information would-be spies can see:

  • All social media
  • Snapchat
  • Encrypted messaging apps like WhatsApp
  • Dating Apps
  • Text messages
  • Calls
  • Real-time GPS location

At $29.99 a month, pretty much anyone can be a spy. MSpy alone has more than a million users.

The stories of stalkers, jilted lovers and overzealous admirers are legion. In 2014, NPR reported that 85% of 72 domestic violence shelters they surveyed said they were working with victims whose abusers tracked them with GPS. Seventy-five percent said they had worked with victims whose abusers used hidden mobile apps to eavesdrop on them remotely.

While there is sadly no shortage of stories out there, most are told under the cloak of aliases. Although largely anecdotal, Krehel told me the misuse of spyware among teens was without doubt a growing problem.

“I would say 30% of the spyware users out there are young guys spying on their girlfriends,” he said.

The end user agreements are clear. These apps are to be used for legal purposes only. The marketing is not pointed at monitoring fidelity, but rather what a child is getting up to or as an enterprise tool for managing employees.

The app developers make it clear that any monitoring made possible with spyware should be done with the consent and knowledge of the party whose device is being tracked.

MSpy’s user agreement says: “User acknowledges that the Software shall be used for the purpose of monitoring, tracking and obtaining access to certain devices as cell phone and computer (including, but not limited to, email and text messages) of children and employees and other device owners with their consent hereto, including through the use of devices, on which the Software is installed.”

It is illegal to spy on someone without their consent. The problem here is that while it’s illegal, the penalties are not very serious. Krehel stated that while a person might get 30-day jail sentence or pay a fine, the damage inflicted is sometimes life-changing with victims and the people in touch with them suddenly finding themselves in divorce proceedings, losing jobs or even committing suicide.

What to Do

As with all things security-related, it is good practice to assume that the unimaginable — or in this case the prevalent — can happen to you, too. It’s also wise to take the necessary measures to prevent it.

  • While it is possible to install spyware remotely on some Apple products, most often physical possession of a device is required. Never surrender your device to anyone, or leave it unattended.
  • Don’t assume your passwords are unknown to those closest to you. (Check out these tips for better internet safety.)
  • Never share your cloud credentials, since this makes it possible to install some types of spyware.
  • Protect your passwords and change them often. Or use biometric authentication.
  • Don’t assume that just because you don’t see a spyware app on your device that it isn’t there. Check for installed apps and software (this may require programs that review apps and software), and become acquainted with the software and apps out there.
  • If you suspect you’ve got spyware on a device, save what needs to be saved on an external drive and wipe the device, restoring the factory default settings. But bear in mind that there are some snooping techniques (the NSA place their exploits directly on a chip in the device hardware) where a factory reset won’t help you.
  • To further guard against fraud and identity theft, monitor your credit for any suspicious changes. You can get a free credit report snapshot on Credit.com.

It’s rough out there for people concerned about their privacy, but being alert goes a long way.

Image: shapecharge

The post The Apps Your Partner Could Be Using to Spy on You appeared first on Credit.com.

How to Keep Thieves From Stealing This $2,300 Car Part

catalytic-converter-theft

When you think about protecting your car from damage or theft, you probably run through a mental checklist of sorts. Doors locked? Check. Windows up? Yep. Catalytic converter secure? Um…

Most cars have catalytic converters as part of the exhaust system, but they’re notable for more than reducing emissions. Catalytic converters get their jobs done using precious metals like rhodium, platinum and palladium, and that’s what makes them vulnerable to theft. Thieves can scrap these metals for $20 to $240, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, and catalytic-converter thefts have been pretty common over the last few years.

In 2015, consumers filed 3,986 insurance claims regarding stolen catalytic converters, up from 1,058 in 2009, according to the NICB. The figures come from the Insurance Services Office ClaimSearch data, which NICB used to identify patterns of catalytic converter thefts from 2008 to 2015. Much of the rise in theft has to do with the values of precious metals, which tanked in late 2008 and have since increased. (Keep in mind this only includes insured vehicles — there are likely more thefts that don’t result in an insurance claim.)

“There was a spike of catalytic converter thefts in 2008, but likely due to the metal prices in 2008-2009, the number of these claims took a downturn. Since then, there has been a steady climb in catalytic converter thefts which is likely attributed to the growing popularity and ease of stealing them,” says an NICB report from Aug. 28.

Thieves often target trucks and SUVs for their catalytic converters, because they sit higher above ground, so it’s easier for a thief to get under them and cut out the part. (Vehicles that sit lower to the ground aren’t necessarily safe — it’s just more time consuming if the thief needs to use a jack.) Between 2008 and 2015, catalytic-converter thefts were most common in Chicago (980 thefts); Sacramento, California (850); Los Angeles (550); Atlanta (407); and Indianapolis (353). On a state level, thefts were most common in California (8,072), Texas (1,705), Illinois (1,605), Ohio (1,439) and Georgia (1,215).

Most important: It’s expensive to repair. Depending on what kind of car insurance you have, you could be on the hook for the whole bill.

“Installing a replacement catalytic converter may cost between $500-$2,300 depending on the type,” the report says. “Repair costs are driven higher since thieves work fast and often damage other areas of the car attempting to remove catalytic converters as quickly as possible.”

Ideally, you can keep your car in a garage — a significant obstacle to thieves — but there are other ways to deter theft and avoid the headache of replacing a catalytic converter. Here are some recommendations from the NICB:

  • Claim ownership. Look into etching the license plate number or vehicle identification number onto the heat shield of the catalytic converter. There are government programs that do it for free, or you may be able to pay to have it done at a dealer or local body shop.
  • Park strategically. If you don’t have a garage, park near a building entrance or somewhere near surveillance cameras. A well-lit parking area may also deter theft.
  • Lock it down. Consider adding a security system to your car, having the catalytic converter welded to the frame of the vehicle or having a cage added to protect the part. Before you make any changes, make sure you find out how it may affect any warranties you have on the vehicle.

Otherwise, you might find yourself out of a catalytic converter — and $500 to $2,300.

Situations like the theft of a catalytic converter is a good example of why it’s so important to have an emergency fund: Such large, one-time expenses are difficult to absorb into your regular budget and put people at risk of getting into credit card debt. In addition to the out-of-pocket costs and credit consequences, it’s important to note that making insurance claims can cause your premiums to rise. And on the topic of credit and insurance: In some states, insurers consider your credit history when determining your premium, so protecting your credit can be just as important as keeping your car safe from theft. (You can keep tabs on your credit standing by getting a free credit report summary every 14 days on Credit.com.)

Image: BanksPhotos

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