Our dependency on our phones makes manufacturers push the envelope of hardware capabilities and app developers to develop apps for basically everything. But we seldom wonder how safe these apps are, because we love being connected.
"There is a beauty in this approach, you don't need to hack people to spy on them if you can get people to willingly download this app to their phone". But do we ever wonder what if the app is accessing the information, tapping your conversations and collecting your location data?
How to protect smartphones from spy apps?
Wardle points out that the messaging app asks for all of its permissions, gives reasons why it would need them, and doesn't hide secret backdoors; it does exactly what it says it's doing.
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In the last few weeks, an app named ToTok has surged gaining widespread popularity.
The report said United States intelligence officials and a security researcher determined the app was being used by the UAE government for detailed surveillance. ToTok was also given a boost by Chinese smartphone giant Huawei, which endorsed the app. But the spy app reportedly had a more sinister goal. It has access to users' microphones, cameras, calendar and other phone data.
Government surveillance in the Emirates is prolific and the Emirates long has been suspected of using so-called "zero day" exploits to target human rights activists and others.
In an analysis by Wardle, he found that this app was built upon another app called YeeCall. "We also implemented a privacy framework that complies with the local and worldwide legal requirements to safeguard our users at all times", the note says. As pointed out by the report, even the name itself was an apparent play on the popular Chinese app, TikTok, to confuse users into installing it on their devices. Huawei is again a company that has been alleged to be spying for China by the USA government.
Even though the claims against ToTok are strong, the app developers have denied the spying allegation. There have been hundreds of spy apps over the years, majority originating from countries such as China and Russian Federation.
According to recent Google Play rankings, the UAE app became one of the top 50 free messaging platforms.
As with many apps, ToTok requests location information, purportedly to provide accurate weather forecasts, according to the Times.