You hacked my mobile phone until death do us part
I suppose privacy is one of an individual’s most sacred rights, but for all practical purposes, the concept of privacy in our digital age is just about gone. In the traditional spy stories, intelligence agencies such as MI5 bug the mobile phone of one or two people. In the last ten years however systems for mass surveillance have become the norm.
According to Wikileaks, intelligence companies such as VASTech (based in South African) are alleged to secretly sell equipment to permanently record the phone calls of entire nations. Other companies record the location of every mobile phone in a city, down to about 50 meters. Systems to infect every Facebook user or smart-phone owner of an entire population group are on the intelligence market, a scary thought.
Paul McCartney, Scarlett Johannsen, Sienna Miller, Jude Law, Mila Kunis, Christina Aguilera, Miley Cyrus and Hugh Grant are just a few high-profile celebrities who’ve had their mobile phones hacked. A host of celebrities have been giving evidence to the Leveson inquiry in the UK about the fact that the media hacked into their private lives. Sir Paul McCartney, the former Beatle believed that journalists from several different newspapers have listened into his phone calls and messages.
The recent hacking scandal at News International dragged down one of the UK’s oldest news outlets, affecting the great and the good, the attention hungry and the deeply private. Yesterday, the former Labour cabinet minister Tessa Jowell accepted a £200,000 settlement from Rupert Murdoch’s News International over the hacking of her phone.
Last week Julian Assange the founder of Wikileaks asked attendees of a press conference in London “Who here has an iPhone?” “Who here has a Blackberry? Who here uses Gmail? Well you are all screwed.
The reality is intelligence contractors are selling right now to countries across the world mass surveillance systems for all of those products.” On an interactive map he showed how 160 security companies across 25 countries developed “spying systems”, and the information is being sold. The companies are said to be peddling these invasive devices, either ignoring or bypassing regulation and “turning a blind eye to dictatorial regimes that abuse human rights.” According to Wikileaks, the industry is worth $5 billion a year.
But it is not only some newspapers who allegedly hacked into the communication methods of third parties. Mobile phone hacking software is readily and cheaply available on the internet to members of the public to download for as little as R 1000.00. It is often used, illegally, in divorce cases where a spouse suspects that the other spouse is having an affair.
In what appears to be the first mobile phone hacking probe in a divorce matter in South Africa a South African businessman and former Natal rugby player Dr Graham Hefer, is now at the centre of a criminal investigation over his alleged illegal interception of his estranged wife’s private e-mails, SMSes and BlackBerry messages, or BBMs. According to Hefer’s estranged wife, Hefer allegedly installed Flexispy® software on the phone.
The hacking was first suspected when his estranged wife filed divorce proceedings against him. Court documents in that case seemed to show that Hefer had access to more than 50 BBMs, over a dozen SMSes and at least five e-mails between his wife and others this year. The case has revealed that the BBM facility, one of the preferred “secure” methods of communication can be hacked with relative ease.
In an affidavit, his estranged wife said she first became suspicious when her husband beat her to filing for divorce in May this year.
She confidentially instructed me to issue summons to begin divorce proceedings. She was shocked when Hefer’s attorney, without having been informed who her legal representative was, faxed a copy of the summons one working day before we issued summons. What astonished her was how his attorney knew who her attorney was. What followed was a systematic pattern of hacking incidents. In the Hefer matter it is alleged that Hefer listened to all the conversations his estranged wife had with her attorney. Conduct such as this is a serious infringement of attorney and client privilege.
In order to hack a mobile phone a hacker must have the phone in his possession to install the software on the phone. Once the software is on the phone every bit of information is known to the hacker. The scary part is that the software is completely undetectable on the phone and mobile banking pin numbers, Facebook and Twitter accounts can all be accessed totally unbeknown to a user. Just think of a scenario where you take your phone to a cell phone repair shop or when you purchase the latest BlackBerry or iPhone from a cellphone shop. Without you knowing about it, the technician or salesperson loads hacking software on your phone and then hacks your bank accounts and personal data. This seems a bit far fetched but not impossible.
What the software can do
The software available can record the key strokes on a Blackberry, iPhone or any other mobile phone and can hold everything a person types, while other technology claims to be able take a picture of an owner sitting at their macbook. Once a mobile phone is hacked, there is absolutely no privacy to its owner and the hacker is able to clone the phone.
Mobile phone hacking software such as Flexispy® and CellSpy® offers call interception and spy call features and all phones can be hacked, whether you have an iPhone or BlackBerry. Call interception lets a hacker specify a series of phone numbers that he wish to listen to. As soon as an incoming or outgoing call from these numbers occurs, a hacker will be notified and are then able to listen to the conversation in real time.
Another feature is the ability to let a hacker listen into the Blackberry surroundings from anywhere in the world by making a phone call to the target Blackberry, it will be silently answered with no indication on the target device. One can eavesdrop in to the phone surroundings from anywhere in the world. The software can also send GPS locations to a secure web account, where you can view and examine locations on a map.
The software also captures all sms, call records and email activity and send it to the hacker’s private web account, and forward it to his email. Through the software you have full control to remotely stop and start the software. You can view all contacts, photos, calendars, reminders, remotely and monitor the phone even if the sim is changed or enable the phones camera to view the phones surroundings. The software is also undetectable on the phone.
Mobile phone hacking is in contravention of the Regulation of Interseption of Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Information Act No 70 of 2002 (RICA) in South Africa. Section 2 of the RICA Act states that subject to this Act, no person may intentionally intercept or attempt to intercept, or authorise or procure any other person to intercept or attempt to intercept at any place in the Republic, any communication in the course of its occurrence and transmission.
According to section 49(1) any person who intentionally intercepts or attempt to intercept, or authorises or procures any other person to intercept or attempt to intercept at any place in the Republic, any communication in the course of its occurrence or transmission, is guilty of an offence. In terms of section 51(1) any person who is convicted of an offence referred to in section 49(1) or 54, is liable of a fine not exceeding R2 000 000.00 or imprisonment for a period not exceeding 10 years.
Section 54(1) of RICA states that any person who, intentionally or unlawfully, in any manner modifies, tempers with, alters, reconfigure or interferes with, any telecommunication equipment, including a cellular phone and a sim card, or any part thereof reverse engineer or decompile, disassemble or interferes with the software installed on any telecommunication equipment, including a cellular phone or sim card by the manufacturer or allows any other person to perform any of the acts referred to in that paragraph will also be guilty of an offence.
If you own an iPhone or a Blackberry or for that matter any mobile phone or use Gmail, Yahoo or whatever you are screwed it seems, not to mention those lovely pictures or videos that a hacker can take while controlling your phone from a distance….
About the author
Bertus Preller is a Divorce Attorney in Cape Town and has more than 20 years experience in most sectors of the law and 13 years as a practicing attorney. He specializes in Family law and Divorce Law at Abrahams and Gross Attorneys Inc. in Cape Town. Bertus is also the Family Law expert on Health24.com and on the expert panel of Law24.com and is frequently quoted on Family Law issues in newspapers and magazines and also appeared on SABC television on the 3 Talk TV show. His clients include artists, celebrities, sports people and high networth individuals. His areas of expertise are Divorce Law, Family Law, Divorce Mediation, Parenting Plans, Parental Responsibilities and Rights, Custody (care and contact) of children, same sex marriages, unmarried fathers rights, domestic violence matters, international divorce law, digital rights, media law and criminal law.