Co-authored by Dr. Stephen Bryen
According to the Times of India, politicians in that country are hacking the smartphones and tablets of their competitors in order to gain political advantage.
In India there is a growing demand to recruit hackers to break into the smartphones of the political competition. The going rate to get the job done by a professional hacker starts at 1 Lakh (100,000 rupees), which is a little less than $2,000. There are some 150 hackers who reportedly are "in great demand."
Mostly it is not the politicians but their intermediaries who hire the hacker-spies. The Times reports these folks usually don't know much about computers or smartphones, but they know what they want to achieve.
But beware if you have the same idea here in the U.S. This is an arena where there is a lot of risk. The Times' story comes from the hackers themselves, which means the cat is out of the bag and there could soon be many Watergate-type stories likely to hit the front pages in India.
One of the hacking tools being used in India is a mobile virus called "NotCompatible". Writing in PC World, Ian Paul says that this virus is an Android Trojan:
Android smartphone users should be on the lookout for hacked websites that automatically download an app onto your phone in an attempt to trick you into installing malicious code. For what may be the first time ever, analysts at Lookout Mobile Security are warning of a so-called drive-by download attack specifically targeted at Android devices. The attack uses infected websites to try to install a Trojan horse called "NotCompatible" onto your phone. If installed, the Android malware could let hackers use the phone as an intermediary access point, or proxy, to break into private computer networks. There is also some speculation that NotCompatible could add your phone to a botnet.
"NotCompatible" and other viruses and Trojans can get onto a smartphone in various ways, either from a PC or through an email attachment, a WIFI connection, or even when you plug your phone into a PC to charge the battery. In fact, the battery-charging risk, outlined in a Defense Department Inspector General Report, is a big problem in the U.S. Army where mobile phones are being replenished off of government computers.
So what to do? The Times recommends, perhaps with tongue in cheek, that politicians should dump their smartphones and go back to their old "low tech" cell phone. Unfortunately, older mobile phones can be easily be hacked. Commercially available Spyphone software can be purchased and installed on old Blackberry's and Nokia phones.
Added to this, as the Times notes, is that fact that most politicians, just like nearly everyone else, are oblivious to the risk of compromise of their smartphone. Even if they know there is a danger, most folks, even political leaders, don't care enough to change their behavior.
But if what they say or do ends up on the front page of the Times of India or the Times of New York, perhaps they will figure out that taking precautions pays off.