Number 7 of the Scams of Christmas: Santa’s Spyware

A few years ago, online security firm McAfee began compiling their 12 holiday cyberscams, including “not-so-merry-mobile apps.

Call these little collections of computer code apps and they don’t sound so bad. Use the names surveillanceware, ransomware, or adware, and they start to sound more grinch-like than helpful.

Surveillanceware? According to an Assistan Attorney General, via a report at ArsTechnica, a recent one was “expressly designed for use by stalkers and domestic abusers.” The FBI recently arrested Hammad Akbar, the chief executive officer of Pakistan-based InvoCode, which made the app for the Blackberry, the iPhone, and phones running Android. According to the indictment:

…it recorded all incoming/outgoing voice calls; it intercepted calls on the phone to be monitored while they take place; it allowed the purchaser to call the phone and activate it at any time to monitor all surrounding conversations within a 15-foot radius; and it allowed the purchaser to monitor the user’s incoming and outgoing e-mail messages and SMS messages, incoming voicemail messages, address book, calendar, photographs, and videos. All of these functions were enabled without the knowledge of the user of the phone.

StealthGenie grabbed even those very candid selfies, which adds new meaning to the term “oversharing,“ not to mention ”seeing you when you're sleeping.”  Even's Santa's NaughtyNice3000TM isn't that good.

The app in question required surreptitious installation by someone with physical control of the phone, but besides trying to keep your devices out of the hands of creeps, don’t connect to unknown wireless networks, which can be used to capture information before it is sent to a legitimate server.

Next up on this 12 Scams of Christmas list,  No. 6 is “Coal-Deserving Charities.”


Terry Ambrose writes the McKenna mystery series set in Hawaii. They're filled with snark, scams, and trouble in paradise.

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