According to a new report released on Thursday, law-enforcement officials use sneaky hacking tactics in order to wiretap Android devices—and computers, too. According to leaked court documents, agencies such as the FBI are delivering spyware to handsets through email and Web links; once activated, the spyware is then capable of turning a device’s microphone on that’s running Google’s Android OS for the purpose of recording conversations. All of this is done, of course, without the user knowing.
According to the report from the Wall Street Journal , the exploit can be imposed on computers, too, but the real contention is the FBI’s attacks is on Android smartphones. Google’s platform is easily the largest and most popular mobile platform in the world, meaning there are potentially millions and millions of people vulnerable to government snooping. However—and this might settle conspiracy theorist nerves—the FBI only uses hacking techniques in cases that involve organized crime, child pornography or counterterrorism.
The report goes into great detail about the government’s efforts to develop and purchase relevant hacking software, and also talks about an FBI group called the Remote Operations Unit, which is largely responsible for the agency’s hacking efforts. In addition to installing malware remotely, the bureau sometimes even gains access to devices through something like a thumb drive; the WSJ highlights a case involving the FBI from 2001 where law-enforcement was able to convict a mobster after installing spyware on his computer.
Chances are you’re a normal person going about your business, in which case the FBI has no reason to tap into your Android phone. But if you are out there doing something you’re not supposed to, you might want to stick with something a little more primitive—a flip phone perhaps, or maybe even a pay phone.