A U.S. federal court has ordered a Danish man to pay a $500,000 fine for advertising and selling a spyware application to remotely monitor calls, texts, videos and other communications on mobile phones without detection.
At a court hearing in the southern U.S. state of Virginia, Hammad Akbar pleaded guilty to marketing "StealthGenie." The case marks the first criminal conviction involving the advertisement and sale of a mobile device spyware app.
Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell said the software secretly and illegally invades individual privacy.
The app could be installed on a variety of mobile phones, including Apple’s iPhone, Google’s Android and Blackberry Limited’s Blackberry.
Akbar also was ordered to forfeit the source code for "StealthGenie" to the government.
According to Akbar, StealthGenie had numerous functions that permitted it to intercept both outgoing and incoming telephone calls, electronic mail, text messages, voicemail and photographs from the smartphone on which it was installed. The app also could turn on the phone’s microphone when it was not in use, and record sounds and conversations that occurred near the phone. All of these functions could be enabled without the knowledge of the user of the phone.
In order to install the app, the purchaser needed temporary possession of the target phone.
Once the app was activated, it was started as a “background” service and set up to launch automatically when the phone was powered on. During activation the icon for the app was removed from the phone’s menu.