How Spies Can Track You Simply From Watching Your Phones Power Use

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How Spies Can Track You Simply From Watching Your Phones Power Use

Lately, everyone is questioning what's going on with tracking of individual's cell phones and what information are they accumulating and for what purpose.  This is the scarey part, Stanford University and Rafael, which is Israel's defense research group, have stated they can gather information from Android phones simply by tracking the power usage over a period of time!  The technique is called PowerSpy.

This information, unlike GPS or Wi-Fi, is completely available through any downloaded or installed app without needing permission from the user. As a user, your movements are being watched at an amazing 90% of accuracy.

Yan Michalevski, a Stanford researcher, said spies can target the downloading of a specific app using PowerSpy techniques.  For example, you installed a game app such as Angry Bird, this will send out communication over the internet but doesn't ask for any form of permission.  It just gathers information and sends it back to the source.  In this case, back to Mr. Michalevski.  This is done in real time which can track the routes you take while driving your car or exactly where you are located at that given time.

How PowerSpy Works:

PowerSpy takes advantage of phone transmission power usage in order to reach a cell tower, the farther it travels away from any given tower, building or mountain that might block transmissions.  This can adequately measure several minutes, enabling the algorithm to literally see through the noise.

The downside to PowerSpy is the spy must be able to pre-measure the phone's power while it travels along a route. An area where a spy has never traveled, either walking or driving, cannot draw a definitive location. Both Stanford and Israeli researchers proceeded to collect data from phones traveling around California's Bay Area and Israel's Haifa City. Comparing their data, based on power consumption on an LG Nexus handset, which travelled constantly using different routes, discovered seven possible routes and were correct within 90%.

If this same vehicle travels the same route several times, a very clear signal and power profile can be formed. Traveling uptown to downtown, but not taking a detour, can be tracked. Michalevksy is hoping to improve their accuracy by incorporating other possible paths and including a variety of phones such as the Nexus 5, as this would work just as well.

At this time, the precision relies on various measurements from a few meters to hundreds of meters, depending on how long the phone has been travelling.

Certain apps such as Google Calendar, corporate emails and various other apps have enabled researchers to discover the exact routes, two out of three times.  With additional apps, adding noises to the equation, measurements have risen to 60% with an exact route of 20% over this time.

Machalevsky has stated that PowerSpy only represents a small privacy problem but something Google has not even taken into consideration.  Android has allowed available data from apps for debugging purposes.  Meaning, data can easily be obtained when it should have been restricted, denying any method of pinpointing a user's position.  Google has not responded to any comment.

This is not the first time that sensitive information has been collected. Researchers have found that using cryptography has exploited phone usage. Gyro-phone tricks have been able to pick up digits that are even spoken into a phone and even determined the speakers gender.

It is believed that anyone, anywhere, granting access to various devices will lead to serious consequences. Concentrating on untrusted apps are allowing access to more than consumers are even aware of. Apps can allow the leak of personal information to unwanted destinations and everyone should be aware of that.



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