Hackers, Apps & Your Illicit Love Affair: How Will the Privacy Wars End?

Hammad Akbar’s Arrest and Why You Should Care

You may not know who Hammad Akbar is, but he now represents what many hope is a new era in the war against spyware, hacking and other invasions of privacy.

Or it may cause you to be afraid to use your phone ever again. It all depends on how you interpret history and how much faith you have in our government’s ability to protect our privacy.

Last month the Feds arrested this 31-year old CEO from Pakistan while he was in L.A., on charges that included conspiracy to market and sell a surreptitious interception device.

Selling Surreptitious Interception Devices Will Get You Thrown in Jail

Sounds serious! Certainly, this man should be locked up for creating whatever that dangerous-sounding “device” must be. Was it a high-tech futuristic gadget the FBI might use to tap phones? Did Mr. Akbar somehow reverse-engineer a governmental wiretapping program? Sounds dangerous and highly illegal.

The “Interception Device”? A Smartphone App You May Have on Your Phone Right Now

Believe it or not, Mr. Akbar was arrested for marketing an app…an app that’s easily purchased and installed and can be found right now on thousands of phones all over the world.

Called StealthGenie, the app is used by suspicious lovers to spy on their partners. Once downloaded onto the suspected cheater’s smartphone, StealthGenie proceeds to report everything back to the “jilted” lover…everything. That includes:

  • text messages
  • email, both sent and received
  • address book
  • calendar entries
  • photos
  • videos

StealthGenie is so “surreptitious”, it will even secretly record phone calls and get this…switch on the phone’s microphone and record what’s going on around it in a 15-foot radius!

How Could Something So Terrible be Legal? Answer: It’s Not!

Of course, it’s illegal to install spyware on someone else’s phone without their permission. StealthGenie’s marketers made it clear that their app was for spying on cheating lovers by advertising it as “undetectable”.

But how could this end up on the marketplace in the first place? Not only that, but people have been purchasing this noxious app for four years now. It’s everywhere!

It took four years for our legal system to catch up with and stop this man and his evil app. It’s pretty clear that our privacy laws aren’t doing their jobs of keeping us safe from spies.

Give it Up, Lawmakers, and Admit Defeat

This really takes the cake. In a war against hacking, spying and other invasions of privacy we’ve all had to deal with since the advent of the PC, StealthGenie is the final insult, the final victory for the wrong side.

We lose, the Feds lose, and the Law certainly loses as well. Hackers, you win!

But this shouldn’t come as any surprise to anyone familiar with the “Privacy Wars” that began in the mid-1980s. Here’s a brief look at how things have progressed up until now…

Computer Privacy: A History of Failure

How the Law Tries to Keep Up With App Developers

App development is hard-driven by profit, but laws governing privacy don’t have quite the push behind them. There’s really not as much money in legislation as there is in the booming business of app creation for smart phones.

Congress has a hard time keeping up, leaving lawyers with no choice but to rely on decades-old laws.

First, they passed the Counterfeit Access Device and Abuse Act of 1984, which states that accessing a Federally protected computer without authorization is punishable. Then just two years later they realized they’d have to change the wording so the act covered personal computers, too. That was filed under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). Right out of the gate, they were falling behind.

Not only that, but neither Act would prepare the legislature for what was to come: legal battles involving malicious tampering with someone else’s personal computer, where no damage or economic loss is intended. The only motivation is spying, nosiness, discovery of a cheating spouse.

Once again, back to the drawing boards to update the legal books and keep up with hackers.

Yes, Your Smartphone is a Computer

You may wonder how computer crime relates to a smartphone app? Well, smartphones are now so advanced that they’re actually considered computers under the law. That means you can be persecuted under all those ’80’s-era computer hacking laws mentioned above if you secretly install anything like StealthGenie on your lover’s phone without permission. Or at least prosecuted for invasion of privacy under the newer “eavesdropping” laws.

But the number of times lawmakers have had to broaden the language of all these laws to include the ever-expanding reach of the internet and the hackers who drive these malicious advances, clearly demonstrates what we already know:

Hackers, spies, developers and programmers are light years ahead of Congressmen when it comes to technology.

It’s been this way now for thirty years: the law remains a few years behind the footsteps of technological advances.

Unfortunately for lawyers, there’s nothing quite so frustrating as applying antiquated laws to the relatively new area of internet crime and spy apps.

Yes, Installing StealthGenie is Technically Breaking the Law

People like Mr. Akbar will try and pass the buck- he already has, in fact. Spy app developers will claim all responsibility lies with the customer- whether they choose to use the technology legally or otherwise is their business, not the software developers.

It’s Your Choice

So when you steal your lover’s phone and install something like StealthGenie, you’re 100% breaking the law. The headline for your arrest would read something like: Jealous Lover Arrested for Wiretapping. But the lack of teeth in the law, and the gray area of legalities over who’s responsible make it clear that for now, you’re OK.

The point to take away from all this is: perhaps it’s only a matter of time before responsibility falls on the end user of apps like StealthGenie, too. Perhaps we should all apply a few ethics to what we do, even when driven mad by a jealous rage that our lover is cheating on us. Since our laws will apparently never keep up with people like Hammad Akbar, maybe it’s up to us to police ourselves.

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