#2. Fake Cell Towers Can Turn Your Phone into a Remote Listening Device
So you've invested in the most obnoxiously tank-like OtterBox money can buy, you don't go around stuffing random cords into your phone-holes, and, for what it's worth, you've kept your phone's antivirus software up to date. When it comes to mobile security, your smartphone is absolutely watertight.
... but is it airtight?
"I'd like to order some cocaine, please."
Ralf-Philipp Weinmann of the University of Luxembourg discovered that hackers can infiltrate your phone through the airwaves themselves, completely bypassing your operating system and antivirus software to hack directly into the radio processor. This aerial attack requires a special box that acts like a cellphone tower and tricks your phone into thinking it's connecting to a real network. Once the connection is made, the infection juice starts a-flowing, giving the hackers access to everything that the radio processor controls. And since this processor is in charge of handling phone calls, that means the hackers now have your dialer and your microphone -- and on some phone models, possibly your camera, too.
Weinmann presented his technique at the Black Hat conference in 2011 (presumably while wearing an Abe Lincoln-style stovepipe), demonstrating how a phony cell tower can remotely and silently "answer" your phone and broadcast any conversations within earshot to prying ears. Yes, kind of a crude version of what Batman was using in The Dark Knight. But you don't have to be as rich as Bruce Wayne to wield this kind of power: The same brand of tower was set up at Burning Man 2008 for about $4,500.
Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images
Basically, the cost of your medical bills after balancing lunch with driving.
Pretty scary stuff, but it gets better ...
#1. Big Brother Can Use Your Phone to Spy on You in 3D
Yes, it's the actual Dark Knight device -- one that generates a complete 3D image of the inside of any building. Disguised as a harmless camera app, PlaceRaider secretly snaps random pictures as you go about your day. The pics are then shipped off to a central server to be analyzed and compiled into a detailed model of your home, office, or terrorist stronghold.
So it's also kind of like that scene in Iron Man 3 where Tony Stark uses a bunch of images from a suicide bombing to recreate a 3D view of the crime scene, the only difference being that ...
... actually, no, that's pretty much exactly what it is.
In fact, Iron Man's fictional technology falls a little behind the curve this time, considering that PlaceRaider (developed by the U.S. military) was already developed, tested, reported, and published by the fall of 2012. The test runs were a smashing success, by the way: PlaceRaider was put in the hands of unsuspecting phone users in an office setting, and in addition to rendering a detailed view of the environment, the resulting images captured computer screenshots, account numbers on checks, and random loose documents.
The idea is that the malware could be embedded in a camera app like Instagram so that it wouldn't raise any red flags when the app asks for permission to access your camera. Then, in practically no time at all, a burglar's virtually strolling through your home -- browsing through your family photos, scanning your wall calendar with "VACATION" scrawled across it in red Sharpie, jotting down the exact locations of your valuables, even seeing close-up detail of what the keys in your pocket look like ...
Dude, you have got to do some upgrading on your house.
Wait, we may have just stumbled across the biggest weakness of PlaceRaider: Seeing as how most smartphones spend the majority of the day buried deep inside their owners' pants, the ne'er-do-well on the receiving end would likely end up sifting through piles of detailed 3D renderings of pocket lint and crotch bulges. Maybe we're panicking a bit prematurely on this one.
For more reasons to go live in a cave with bears, check out 7 Ways Your Cellphone Is Screwing With Your Body and Mind and 6 Sci-Fi Technologies You'll Soon Have on Your Phone.