Ways your technology is already spying on you

It’s been revealed the CIA has a range of hacking tools to break into phones, apps and other devices.

Feeling worried?

You might be directing your fear into the wrong place, because your devices are probably already monitoring you.

Right. Now.

What? How?

Where do we begin? Let’s start with your smartphone.

Not only have you likely given away a lot of your privacy rights through downloading apps, if you have location services activated your phone knows where you live, work and play without entering any information.

It just knows.

Your phone network also tracks you, even if you don’t make a call, by pinging to your nearest phone tower.

Australia’s data retention laws also mean phone and internet companies have to save this information for two years.

That info includes every time you call someone, where you call them from and which cell tower your phone pings every time it connects to the internet.

Apps on your devices, including Facebook

The apps you download seek access to all sorts of information from your photos, microphone and contacts.

Ride sharing app Uber came under fire recently over insecure data practices.

On Facebook, any pages you click out to or like are tracked and monitored.

Many people also claim when you’re scrolling, the mic is on and listening.

Which could explain why you notice advertisements for things you’ve just been talking about.

Facebook later came out and said it wasn’t doing this, but it still has access to many people’s microphones.

“We only access your microphone if you have given our app permission and if you are actively using a specific feature that requires audio,” the statement read.

“This might include recording a video or using an optional feature we introduced two years ago to include music or other audio in your status updates.”

You can opt out of this in the app permissions section if you don’t feel comfortable with this.

Also, have you thought of the auto photo tagging on Facebook as a great way to save time from tagging friends in pictures?

Facebook uses facial recognition technology.

The only way you can avoid it is to not be in any pictures uploaded on Facebook, so good luck with that.

Your laptop

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, pictured with tape covering the camera and microphone on his laptop.

Speaking of Facebook…

If Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg has a bandaid covering the camera on his laptop, you know he might be on to something.

Last year a Melbourne man spoke to the ABC’s Hack program and shared his story about having his webcam hacked.

He had been filmed in a compromising position and blackmailed for $10,000.

Your smart television

Just like your laptop, your smart television also has a microphone and some have a camera.

When Samsung released its new smart televisions last year, it warned customers not to discuss sensitive information in front of it.

The policy advised customers to “please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of voice recognition.”

Earlier this year consumer group Choice also warned the televisions, like any internet-connected device, could be hacked including “access to inbuilt cameras, files stored on the television and social apps such as Skype”.

Your car

Australian Centre for Cyber Security Professor Greg Austin said people were often surprised their cars stored information on them.

“… Some makes of car, when you buy them you have to sign away your rights about the information that’s collected on where you travel,” Professor Austin said.

“But the new one that’s coming that isn’t in those houses yet, is the refrigerator (collecting) food consumption habits.”

“It already exists … (it) tells you whether you’re out of milk or how much milk you consume.”

Which brings us to…

Your home

Remember that episode of The Simpsons where they live in a house with an in-built computer?

This is kind of like that, without the computer falling in love with Marge.

The Home setting on your iPhone means you can control lighting, heating and other automated accessories all with the click of a button.

Like Eddt, which was being trialled in Perth in 2015 which monitors energy consumption.

Smart water meters, used to monitor water usage, know each time you flush a toilet and smart fridges know every time you fill up a glass of water.

Some even know what you’ve put in your fridge.

Smart watches and fitbits

Love getting rewarded by monitoring your movement and steps?

Well, security agencies love it too.

Former CIA chief technical officer Gus Hunt said they could collect a lot of information from your Fitbit, Garmin and Apple Watch.

“What they discovered is simply by looking at the data they can find out with pretty good accuracy what your gender is, whether you’re tall or short, whether you’re heavy or you’re light, but what’s really intriguing is you can be 100 per cent identified by simply your gait,” he explained at a conference in March 2013.

He has since retired from the CIA.

The other issue is this data is fast becoming a commodity.

Your kids toys

A My Friend Cayla doll

Last year consumer watchdog groups complained about two toys, which they said had the power to spy on children.

They were the My Friend Cayla doll and the i-Que robot, which are connected to the internet.

When children ask the toys a question, the words are recorded and turned into text so the answers can be retrieved from Google.

The My Friend Cayla doll was even banned in Germany over the security concerns.

So what can you do?

There’s a lot of situations where it’s unavoidable to give away your information, but here are some ways to protect yourself:

  • Check to see what each of your devices can do, whether it’s a microphone, camera, and take steps to manage it whether through physical fixes (like Mr Zuckerberg’s tape) or technical ones (switching off settings in your device)
  • Turn off location services if you don’t need them
  • Don’t compromise any of your devices by opening dodgy emails or clicking on suspicious links
  • Never give away private information unless you have to
  • If you don’t feel comfortable with giving apps access to your phone, don’t download them
  • And if you’re still worried you can always get your hands on a vintage Nokia


Read more at abc.net.au

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