There's a software company in Italy called "The Hacking Team." Guess what kind of service they offer to their customers?
"You want to look through your target's eyes. You have to hack your target," says the company's promotional video.
Yes, they hack smartphones and computers for government spy agencies. They don't sell their software to repressive regimes, only to the good guys.
But regardless of who they work for, we now have a much better idea of the kinds of things they can do, thanks to the Russian anti-virus company Kaspersky Lab, which just issued an update revealing that The Hacking Team has a diverse set of spying tools that can now hack almost any kind of smart phone including Android, Apple, Windows, and Blackberry.
Kaspersky's software detectives report finding planted fragments of computer code designed to, for example, get control of WiFi links, to get access to data stored on your computer even if you're not connected to the internet.
Something the company's video hints at, "Often the information you want is not transmitted at all. Is passive monitoring enough?"
I guess not!
As for phones, the software can get your call history, browsing history, address book, calendar and notes. And it can even activate the microphone of a smart phone, to either listen in real time or to record anything you say, even if you're not making a phone call; even when your phone is off.
Or when your phone appears to be off, because what's becoming quite clear is that as long as the battery's charged, a phone is never off.
The spyware can be installed without your knowledge and is designed not cause additional drain on the battery so as not to tip you off.
And to make all this work, "The Hacking Team" runs special command-and-control servers, 350 of them, in forty countries. The country with the most command-and-control severs?
You're in it: 64 of them right here in the Land of the Free.
Like I say, these hacking programs are sold only to the good guys, who, as we've been reassured many times, would never use it for the wrong purpose.
Unless you count the countries that spy on dissidents, which has reportedly happened in Morocco and Turkey.
So then, when your phone listening to you? I don't know. And that's the point. That's the beauty of this kind of technology. There's no way to know.