The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is swooping down on the mobile spyware market. The FBI's first arrest involved the CEO of a UK-based company that sells a spyware app to individuals who suspect their romantic partners of cheating on them.
Hammad Akbar, 31, from Lehoro, Pakistan is the head of InvoCode, the software company behind StealthGenie, an app that allows users to monitor anyone's activities by tracking the texts, calls, photos, videos, emails, calendars and all the contents of their smartphones. Prosecutors say purchases will have to gain physical access to the device they want to track but, once installed, the app goes undetected.
StealthGenie sets itself apart from other spyware apps on the market by allowing purchasers to monitor anybody's phone in real-time. The app collects and gathers data on the smartphone and delivers all information to the purchaser's account, all without the knowledge of the person being monitored.
The app also allows the purchaser to call the monitored phone and listen in on all conversations within a 15-foot radius surrounding the device. All incoming and outgoing calls are also recorded to be listened to by the purchaser later, or they can be intercepted as they take place. StealthGenie works on all major smartphones, including Apple's iPhones, smartphones running on Google's Android and BlackBerry phones.
"Selling spyware is not just reprehensible; it's a crime," says Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department's Criminal Division. "Apps like StealthGenie are expressly designed for use by stalkers and domestic abusers who want to know every detail of a victim's personal life -- all without the victim's knowledge."
Akbar faces indictment charges of conspiracy, sale of a surreptitious interception device, advertisement of a known interception device and advertisement of a device as a surreptitious interception device. He was arrested in Los Angeles on Sept. 27.
StealthGenie was hosted on Amazon Web Services servers in Ashburn, Virginia, the FBI reported.
According to the indictment, the StealthGenie business plan states that the company expects at least 65 percent of its customers to be spouses who want to monitor their partners whom they suspect of having an affair. However, a disclaimer on its website says StealthGenie requires all users to use the app only in a lawful manner and discourages users against using the app for "sneaky purposes."
"Our software is designed for monitoring your children or employees on a smartphone you own or have proper consent to monitor," says StealthGenie on a cached copy of its website, which has since been taken down by the FBI. "You must notify users of the smartphone that they are being monitored."
"StealthGenie software must not be used to 'Stalk' or 'Spy' anyone," StealthGenie adds. "StealthGenie software must not be used to monitor the smartphone of a spouse, girlfriend, boyfriend, child over 18 without their written consent."