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A new app can spot 'StingRay' spy machines

A new app can spot 'StingRay' spy machines
photo courtesy of shutterstock

Next time you're out and about at the mall or seeing a movie, look to your left and look to your right. Odds are everyone you see has a smartphone. The gadgets are everywhere these days, and that opens us all up to some very serious privacy problems. That's because the government and criminals have ways snoop on calls, texts and steal other phone data. Now, there's an app out there that can spot them.

The app is called SnoopSnitch, and it looks at your phone's network data to alert you if someone is spying on you. The app was created by security firm Security Research Labs.

[Chief Scientist at Security Research Labs Karsten Nohl] explained some of the types of patterns that SnoopSnitch can spot. “Patterns include stealthy SMS that are delivered to the phone without notifying the user; IMSI catcher, which track a user's locations and intercept their calls and SMS; and SS7 attacks, in which a user is tracked or spied on from a remote location.”

Those threats are very real. I just told you about the vulnerabilities in the old SS7 network that could give hackers access to your calls, texts and location info. And, IMSI catchers - better known as StingRays - have been used by law enforcement around the country to monitor cellphones, sometimes without a warrant.

Right now, SnoopSnitch is only available to some "rooted" Android smartphones. "Rooted" means the user has privileged access to data within the Android operating system that normal users don't have.

“We'll slowly grow the supported phone base,” Nohl promises. “Root-access will still be needed in most cases, unless the phone vendor opens an alternative channel to access the raw data.”

Both Android and Apple phones are susceptible to the attacks the app can detect. The company wants to develop protections for iPhones, too, but it will need cooperation from Apple.

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