Your phone is constantly listening and looking at you through the camera – even when turned off
Expert in the field of information technology, artificial intelligence and IT security Igor Ashmanov advised to tape the cameras of smartphones and tablets. In an interview with AiF, the expert told how intelligence services monitor smartphones, why it is dangerous to pass tests in social networks, and also shared his thoughts on the security of messengers.
AiF: They say that all the equipment with cameras – laptops, tablets, phones – is watching us, taking pictures and videos whenever it wants. Is this true?
Igor Ashmanov: Yes. It’s not for nothing that Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, a very technically advanced person, tapes the camera on his laptop – and he started doing this seven years ago! Your phone is always “listening” to you, always determining your location, and constantly looking into the camera at you – even when seemingly inactive. At the same time, the phone understands if the picture was taken in your pocket and the screen is dark. Pictures of faces, people or some situations the devices send to the “central servers” – who are the beneficiaries of this information, we can only guess… Not only the phone manufacturers have access to data from Android phones, but also the NSA, to whom the owner of the OS is obliged by law to give the data.
AiF: So you have to turn your phone off when you’re not using it?
Igor Ashmanov: That won’t help. You have to understand that there are many surveillance channels. You have to try not to do anything compromising. Because even if you think the phone is turned off, it’s not necessarily true. A guarantee of disconnection is to remove the battery from the phone. Almost all modern phones have a non-removable battery. It’s not easy with shutting down, either: the phone can play you a shutdown animation and turn off the screen – but remain active. There is another option to complicate surveillance: buy a “granny phone” like the Nokia 6610 and not use smartphones.
Ashmanov himself uses one of the latest Galaxy smartphones, but does not tape the cameras to it. The specialist believes he doesn’t need it: wiretapping and surveillance carries a direct risk for people who deal with some secrets. These are officials, representatives of special services, big businessmen and criminals. Servers, on the other hand, collect massive amounts of data without identifying you as an individual.
Igor Ashmanov: In any case, I try not to use my smartphone in specific situations: at negotiations, in the sauna, in the bedroom, etc.
AiF: They say that messengers (Telegram, WhatsApp, Viber) encrypt information – and unlike texts and e-mail, they are safer. Is this true?
Igor Ashmanov: I’m not sure. No one can know that for sure. It’s marketing. Is the encryption algorithm reliable, on whose servers and in what form is your correspondence stored? A simple example: You know that public mail (e.g. Google) “reads” the content of your emails? It offers you advertisements about what you were talking about in the mails. And Google is obliged by law to give the data to the intelligence service. All communication services are similarly structured: of course, it is not human beings who read, but artificial intelligence with linguistic analysis. And the Windows-10 operating system comes with a built-in keyboard spy, which sends all your keystrokes to Microsoft.
AiF: Tests are constantly circulating in social networks: what kind of person you will be in your old age, what kind of dog you are… You have to give access to your profile data to get the result. Is it safe?
Igor Ashmanov: It is possible to download a public profile with external programs. The danger of tests, in my opinion, lies elsewhere. It is mass training of people, coaching them to do something on command. The mechanism is simple: most people don’t get enough attention for themselves, and then they say you’re a talented cook or look like a celebrity. It feels good! What kind of animal you are, who you were in a past life – a million idiotic results that everyone shares with their friends. The training is precisely about “sharing.” Flash mobs have the same meaning: pour water on yourself, or write about how you were raped. This is how mindless mass behavior is trained, like lemmings. They tell me, and I do it: everyone runs, and I run. Whoever collects the mass data puts a mark on it: these are the users who tend to be led by the masses. The work is the same, in essence, as in the “death groups” (which are far from being the worst thing online right now). To the trained masses of people, tasks can be thrown more and more difficult, and they will willingly perform them.
AiF: You said there is something scarier than death groups. What is it?
Igor Ashmanov: There are groups of blatnoy romance AUE, groups that romanticize school shootings (in English, “skulshooting”). In fact, this is the kind of cybersecurity the family and the state should be concerned about in the first place. When a password is stolen, that’s half the trouble. But when their brains are stolen, it’s much worse. There are thousands of manipulators online now, and they are getting more sophisticated. Check what your children are doing on the Internet, in what groups with whom they communicate, what tasks they perform – it can save their lives.
In turn, we want to remind you of the importance of privacy and personal data. You should keep a close eye on what services and systems you “drop” information about yourself. A good example is the story with the application GetContact, which stores on its servers the collected information about users (phonebook, accounts in social networks, job positions and places of work, photos, IP-addresses and phone records) and reserves the right to transfer this data to third parties.
The same applies to security rules in app stores. Never install any dubious programs promising magic functions and features that are not available in the official clients of any services. We also have a good example on this point: recently in Google Play appeared the application “All banks in one place”. As it turned out, it is a virus that steals data to access victims’ bank accounts. The description of the program says that it saves users from having to install multiple programs and allows them to manage all their finances through a single interface. Ratings and reviews for the app were inflated, and about 500 people managed to install it in a few days.