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How to keep spies off your phone — in real life, not the movies

Jan. 8, 2020



In the new Terminator movie, Sarah Connor puts her phone inside an empty bag of chips to hide her movements from the bad guys. 

But do people actually spy on other people through these networks? 



Spying over radio: GPS, cellular, and Wi-Fi


Sarah Connor was concerned primarily about GPS signals. At first glance, that’s logical;

we use satellites to determine the exactlocation of a device.

In reality, however, things aren’t that straightforward.



Can you be tracked by GPS?


Phones do not transmit any information to satellites. The system is entirely unidirectional:

The phone doesn’t transmit anything through GPS, but rather picks up a signal from several satellites,

analyzes how much time the signal took to arrive, and calculates its coordinates.


So, tracking someone using only GPS is simply not possible. One would need to send those coordinates out from the phone,

and the GPS standard does not provide for that.





Tracking through cellular networks


With cell towers, unlike GPS satellites, communication is bidirectional. And although determining your location

is not the main task of a cellular network, it can lend a hand.


Broadly speaking, someone who knows which tower is currently serving the phone can determine its location





Tracking with Wi-Fi


In theory, your movements can also be tracked using Wi-Fi — when you log in to a public network,

it receives certain information about you and the device you’re using.


Moreover, smartphones broadcast information about themselves to find available networks, and they can be tracked

even if you are not connected to anything.


The sole inconvenience is that Wi-Fi tracking is possible only when you are in the vicinity of an access point.

So, although this method is practiced, it is not used for tracking specific people.


For example, some shopping malls use this kind of tracking to create individual ads based on data about visits to particular stores.





How people are tracked in reality: Operating systems and apps


They can hack into your Apple or Google account

They can view metadata, geotags, and check-ins

They can install spyware on your smartphone

They can use spying apps — legally!






How to guard against mobile tracking


The real danger of mobile tracking comes not from cellular networks and certainly not from GPS. It is far simpler and more effective

to spy on a person through an app installed on their smartphone. So, instead of putting your phone inside two empty chip bags, simply

protect your devices and accounts properly:


·Use strong passwords and two-factor authentication for all accounts, especially important ones like your Apple ID or Google account


·Protect your devices with a strong, complex PIN and don’t reveal it to anyone. No one can install spyware if the device is properly locked.


·Download apps only from official stores. Although dubious programs occasionally sneak into Google Play and the App Store, you’ll  find

far fewer of them there than on other resources.


·Do not give permissions to mobile apps if they seem excessive. You can always grant permissions later if they’re genuinely required.


·Use a reliable security solution. For example, Kaspersky Internet Security For Android detects not only malware but legal spyware too,

and warns the device owner about it. 






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