En español | Your smartphone may be sharing your secrets. Using "spyware" that sells on the Internet for as little as $15, other people can hijack your phone. This allows them to hear your calls; see your text messages, e-mails, photographs and files; and track your location through constant GPS updates.
Your phone can even be turned into a surreptitious microphone. "When the phone is off — in a pocket, purse or on a table — it can remotely be turned on so conversations around the phone can be heard," says Tim Wilcox, owner of International Investigators Inc., an Indianapolis security firm.
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The world now has about 370 million smartphones, according to ABI Research, an Oyster Bay, N.Y., firm that studies wireless communications. They include BlackBerrys, Androids, iPhones and others that easily accept apps and have ample processing power. Security experts say millions of them may already be infected with spyware; the risk for basic "dumb" cellphones is far less.
Mobile phone spyware is illegal in the United States but is sold by websites operating overseas. With at least 600 variations of the app out there, all it takes is a credit card to make an instant wiretapper. Often that person is a suspicious spouse, an overly protective parent or a jealous coworker. "But it's certainly possible for scammers to use it for identity theft," says Wilcox.