Your cell phone is vulnerable.
Using inexpensive, off-the-shelf software akin to what the federal government
uses against terrorists and the Mafia, people can listen to your calls, read
your text messages, track your location and even listen to what you say while
your phone is off.
How is this possible? Law Enforcement agencies can work with the cell phone
companies under a court order to change the “firmware” on the phone.
Obviously, most accountants won’t be under suspicion of a federal crime.
In fact, as it stands today the odds are greatly in your favor in terms of cell
That was one of the major selling points for cell phones in the first place
— the ability to encrypt the signal so it could not be intercepted over
the network. But three things have happened since the introduction of the cell
phone that makes the system less secure:
- Consumers got careless. Cell phones are so much a part
of our lives — and so universal — that we take them for granted.
If I have access to you, chances are good that I have access to your cell
phone — at least for long enough to slip in an SD card loaded with a
cell phone spy program.
- Cell phones got smarter. With each successive generation
of phones, the operating system has gotten smarter and capable of running
programs, including viruses that can alter the operating system of the cell
- Bluetooth got universal. Bluetooth is the communication
technology that allows you to use a wireless headset or listen to your phone
through a car radio. Sadly, most people have their phones set to automatically
connect to any nearby Bluetooth device. This makes it easy to connect to your
phone and plant the software on it without even coming near you.
So how much trouble is this? Plenty, as it turns out. It is bad enough that
phone conversations and SMS text can be recorded. But by activating the internal
microphone of the cell handset, a person can actually listen in to conversations
and record them. If the phone has a video camera built in, they can actually
record video, hold it in memory and then send the video to someone else when
the meeting is over.
Merger and acquisition discussions. Tax consulting with clients. Audits and
And the technology isn’t limited to law enforcement. It can be used
by litigating parties, by vengeful ex-spouses and by competitors. Not legally,
perhaps, but that is of little comfort considering the cell phone can be tapped
in ways that are virtually impossible to discover.
Turning the cell phone off isn’t enough to protect client confidentiality.
The battery must be taken out of the phone — an action that could erase
data from the phone or require re-synchronization. Removing the battery isn’t
all that hard. But it is irritating enough that I’m willing to bet that
most people won’t do it.
I’m not willing to get all paranoid about my cell phone being tapped.
Frankly, anyone who listened in to my phone would be bored to tears, and I never
use SMS text messages for business.
Nevertheless, I am paranoid enough to insist that substantive business meetings
will require that cell phones be left outside with the receptionist or that
the batteries be visibly removed before the discussions begin.
A compendium of ideas, products, rants and raves from the viewpoint of
The author has no financial interests in any of the products mentioned.
Feel free to
disagree, or to share your ideas by sending them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
– Long Term Evolution (LTE). No, not the Darwin
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Dave McClure is a consultant and widely published writer on technology
issues. He can be contacted at email@example.com.