An especially creepy piece of Android malware can infect your phone and take pictures without your knowledge.
It's called PlaceRaider and the name is mainly refers to its other nefarious feature: the ability to send those secret photos back to its host, who can assemble them into a 3D rendering of your room, office or wherever you leave your phone. In effect, your phone will turn against you.
And you thought it was annoying when a phone snapped pictures of the inside of your pocket.
The PlaceRaider app was built by researchers at Indiana University and the Naval Surface Warfare Center as an experiment to test if this type of spying would be possible. In a paper titled " PlaceRaider: Virtual Theft in Physical Spaces with Smartphones" they write that the malware "allows remote attackers to engage in remote reconnaissance and what we call virtual theft."
"Remote burglars can thus download the physical space, study the environment carefully, and steal virtual objects from the environment [such as financial documents, information on computer monitors, and personally identifiable information]." As an added level of sinister, the app mutes the camera's shutter sound.
In their experiment, Indiana researchers set the app to take a picture every two seconds. You can see right here how those individual photos can be assembled to accurately recreate a physical space. In their study, they call PlaceRaider an example of "visual malware", which picks up where other pieces on phone spy technology have left off, including malware that "can 'listen' for spoken credit card numbers through the microphone, or 'feel' keystroke vibrations using the accelerometer."
For now, this stuff exists only in the controlled environment of academic research labs. But should it ever become a real issue, researchers suggested several defenses phone owners and manufacturers can take to keep safe -- including development of a "persistent" shutter sound that can't be circumvented, permission that requires a physical button to be pressed to take a photo, and simply not leaving your phone anywhere you wouldn't want photographed and sent off to the bad guys.
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