Monday, December 1, 2014

Digital spying

Here's the flashlight I keep in my purse at all times. It has three beam settings (low, high, strobe) and can put out 250 lumens. We get these particular flashlights in three-packs from Costco for $15 and they're excellent little tools. We have three or four hanging by the door. We keep a couple in every vehicle. And I keep one in my purse.

Apparently it's a good thing I'm using this flashlight because of a fascinating (and horrifying) bit of news I just learned. It seems the seemingly innocent flashlight app on your smart phone is, in fact, a digital spying unit.

Reader Fred sent this link which tells how a representative from learned 500 million people (half a billion!!) are infected with a spy virus on their smart phones through their flashlight app and are entirely unaware of it. The top ten flashlight apps downloadable from Google are all malware which transfer names, addresses, credit card info, banking info, family photos, videos, GPS location, as well as whatever info you have on friends and relatives. These data primarily go to China, India, and Russia.

Apparently even un-installing the flashlight app doesn't work because they are infected with Trojans which linger in the background even if the app is removed. The smart phones must be factory-reset in order to get rid of the malware. The only flashlight apps are that "just" flashlight apps are under 100 kb. The malware apps are on the order of 1.2 mb to 5 mb.

Hard on the heels of this story is a recent story from the Washington Post entitled HappyTracksgiving: How your travels are tracked this holiday season. This article details just how much spying and tracking is taking place on a routine basis. Virtually all means of travel is monitored through cameras, license-plate recognition software, facial recognition software, and other methods. This takes place in airports and airplanes, train stations, buses, car services, toll payment systems, through surveillance cameras on streets and in stores, as well as "the rising use of overhead surveillance, from airplanes, drones, and aerostats, those blimp-like craft floating above some border areas."

To those like me who want to throw up their hands in disgust and just go for a walk in the woods, the article continues: "What about a horse on backwoods trails? Hot air balloon? Offroad mountain bike? Well, even if you manage to avoid the ground cameras and the drones, there’s still that pesky phone in your pocket. If you’ve flipped on location services for your iPhone, maybe so Google Maps can keep you from getting lost, Apple and Google both are getting location data from you. So are the operators of many others apps. / Too paranoid to use a smartphone? Even the oldest, dumbest flip phone has to communicate with cell towers in order to work, meaning Verizon or AT&T – and potentially the government – know what cell tower your phone is using and in some situations can remotely activate GPS systems. Location technology initially developed for 911 calls also can estimate how close you are to various towers, making it easier to home in on your exact coordinates. Altitude measurements – revealing what floor you are on -- are next."

But we're not supposed to be paranoid. After all, "they" are not specifically looking for us. As the article explains, "Bear in mind that all these systems operate passively, continuously, even if nobody is looking for you. If you are an actual target of the authorities –- be it your government or somebody else’s -- there are even more powerful tools available. Surveillance companies sell malicious software to install on smartphones for tracking locations, browsing your e-mail and activating video cameras and microphones."

Needless to say, all online activities -- including the contents of this blog -- are also tracked. Cheery thought, no?

We don't have smart phones and only our basic-model cell phones are only turned on while traveling, but that's no longer good enough. Apparently we must just accept the fact that we are being continuously tracked, each and every one of us, from cradle to grave.

Nonetheless I think I'll stick to my purse flashlight. At least it doesn't spy on me.


  1. I knew it - just when I found something about my SmartPhone I really like - the flashlight - there's gremlins in it! I love the flashlight for looking in the back of the incubator during those dark spring mornings...or when doing other barn chores. I carry my phone just in case I slip and almost do myself in. Maybe the spy guys can call it in..."Hello 911 - there's a middle aged lady sprawled on the ice on her backwoods farm - can you send out the volunteer fire dept. Oh and don't worry, we've got her credit card numbers already."

  2. I, like KarenBC, carry my phone for safety. I was down at the barn 3 years ago and climbed over a fence and fell flat on my back. As I lay there trying out various body parts to see if anything was damaged I realized that no one would miss me for some time. That day I started carrying my phone from morning to night. I very seldom turn it on but I have a lifeline if I need it. The fact that the powers to be can track me bothers me a lot but there is nothing you can do about it, just part of living in the USSA.

    1. In rural area cell phone tower based tracking is much less accurate than it is in an urban area. I have turned off GPS location finding and turned on cell tower location finding - in an area with a few, distant, towers it has usually been miles off (don't rely on it for help). Survivalmom recently had an article about not assuming your phone will always save you in an emergency.

  3. You forgot to mention those grocery store "rewards" cards that track your every purchase, so that when you need medical attention at age 74, they say, "Sorry, you bought too many cookies over the last 10 years. You didn't make good choices. You won't be receiving any medical care...Next?"

    Just Me

    1. Not only do the grocery store programs track you, have you ever tried to redeem their points? The stores around me make them difficult to redeem them in any useful way.

  4. Well, I can just picture it: some Russian guy watching my light zoom in on dog poo in the night and a baggie-covered hand picking it up and trying to tie it shut with the same hand the phone is in.

  5. Another reason to have a iPhone instead of Android or Windows phone. The iPhone flashlight does not report on you, its a flashlight or camera flash only.

  6. Australia is the same. Doesn't it say something about this in the Bible?????? Why does all this surprise us? Love this blog. It's so real.
    Blessings from Australia.

  7. This is why I switched to HAM. We were on some property where one end had cell service and the other did not. If I fell or one of the horses kicked me, I would not be able to get help. Sure on HAM freqs everyone in range can hear you. But think about the change in demographic of listeners.... Russia, China, NSA, etc etc .. vs. a bunch of old retired guys with nothing better to do with their time but work on models and play with their radio. Hmm... ( :

    -Old Soldier

  8. I am not happy about all the spying and certainly appreciate the tip on the flashlight app; I would wager many apps, especially free ones, are loaded with viruses. However, I love those little LED flashlights and keep one in the pockets of both of my "chore" coats. Should I actually go to town in my "nice" coat, I have my "best" LED light in what passes for a purse. I also keep an LED in my most often carried backpack. Along with my pocket knives.
    I may not be a person considered "life of the party", but at one of those women-only gatherings where games are played and contents of purses evaluated, I would make an interesting contestant, lol.
    I just got a new phone, and though it takes me a minute more, I just turn my location services on and off. Of course, when I turn it on so I can check the weather, TPTB will get a reading of where I am. So be it. I just have to turn over that worry to God.