Despite some of the advancements made in the technology sector over the past few years, obtaining privacy online remains quite elusive. As it turns out, there are quite a few ways computers can be used as active spy tools by companies and governments. It is evident all of these threats pose a real danger to our society.
#4 Google Eavesdrops
In 2015, an article condemned Google in installing spyware on computers without the end user’s consent. It was discovered the Chromium browser – which is the foundation for Google Chrome – started installing audio-snooping code capable of listening to users. Although this software was designed to support voice controls initially, it turned out this type of software was far more dangerous than initially assumed.
Google addressed this situation by explaining how users could opt-out from using this feature. Although Chromium is not a Google product, it gave the technology giant a bit of a bad rep in the process. The listening software was later on removed from Chromium altogether, and order was restored. However, it remains unclear if the threat was eliminated entirely in the process.
#3 Mobile Device Location Tracking
With most mobile devices becoming as powerful as the average computer, it is not surprising the NSA takes a keen interest in these devices. Edward Snowden revealed how the NSA tracks close to 5 billion cell phone location records outside of the US every single day. Rest assured the agency is well aware of where everyone is at any given time. That is, unless you use a burner phone or do everything you can to disable GPS features.
#2 NSA Webcam Spying
Hardly anyone will be surprised to learn the NSA can use any computer in the world to spy on users. One of the ways they do so is by using webcams built into laptops and mobile devices. Though the so-called GUMFISH plugins, it is possible to use webcams to snap photos of the computer user. Moreover, another tool can hijack built-in microphones of devices to record full conversations. Rest assured no device is safe from these vulnerabilities unless one takes borderline paranoid precautions.
#1 Ultrasound Tracking
Not too long ago, an article surfaced on Slashdot explaining a new technique used by law enforcement called “ultrasound tracking”. Ultrasounds emitted by advertisements or hidden code on web pages could be used to deanonymize Tor browser users. As a result of this ultrasound pinging, nearby devices – such as mobile phones or other computers – would send detailed information back to advertisers. This includes location, time zone, and device ID information, among other things.
Researchers discovered this potential privacy attack and presented their findings during Black Hat Europe 2016. Although no law enforcement has officially confirmed they are using this technology, it appears to be a tool up the sleeve of agencies such as the NSA and FBI. Ultrasound cross-device tracking is a grave threat to privacy all over the world and it will not go away anytime soon.
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