BOISE -- Your phone probably has a tiny camera in it that you use to take fun photos of your kids, dogs, vacation, but someone else could be accessing it and you may not even know.
KTVB contacted experts and found it's possible for others to hack into your phone or computer to watch and listen to you, wherever you are.
How common is the problem?
"As technology is increased, hacking has increased, and hacking has also become easier," Don Bowers, College of Western Idaho Program Chair for Information Security and Digital Forensics, said.
Bowers teaches classes including ethical hacking, to try to stop malicious people from getting into places they shouldn't.
"Hacking has now gone 'viral', and they're trying to get anything and everything they possibly can," Bowers said.
While Bowers says the goal of most hackers is identity theft to steal money, people are also using simple hacking techniques to spy.
He says most often people are using free programs marketed for anti-theft, so someone could locate and identify a cell phone or computer thief.
"This is an anti-theft device, but if I'm a bad guy, I can use it for bad things, as well as good things," Bowers said.
Who would do this?
"I loved this person very much and never expected anything like this to happen," an anonymous Texas woman told KTVB's sister station KHOU.
The woman believes an ex-boyfriend watched her through her laptop computer for months.
"I had suspected it because he would say things that I thought, well how does he know that?" she said.
Strangers have also done this type of hacking. A Florida man allegedly shot more than 20,000 pictures of women through their web cams. In Germany police found a man who'd hacked hundreds of women's' computers around the world, and recorded them clothed, and unclothed.
How does this happen?
"Anyone can do this," Bowers said.
Bowers set up demonstrations for KTVB by quickly installing a free program on a smart phone.
"About 30 seconds is all it takes," Bowers said.
Then, he gave us the phone and could do just about anything from his computer, no matter how far away we were. He could pinpoint the phone's location, see call logs and messages, place calls, record conversations, take photos and record video.
Bowers showed KTVB all of those things, and with the exception of the phone placing calls, there was no sign on the phone that anything was happening out of the ordinary.
"You didn't even know the phone did that. The phone stayed absolutely quiet, didn't do anything weird," Bowers confirmed.
How can you find out if you've been hacked?
"You have to be watching and paying pretty close attention to catch this thing," Bowers said.
Bowers says most hacked phones, computers or tablets would likely do at least something strange enough to tip you off if you're paying attention.
"The phone is not going to stay completely dormant. Sometimes it'll do weird things, so if you have your phone, and you know how it normally acts and all of a sudden it starts acting a little funny, maybe it's clicking and popping like you normally don't hear or your phone rings like yours just did, the best thing to do is to turn the phone off and then have a professional look at the phone and make sure nothing is on the phone that shouldn't be on the phone," Bowers said.
How do you prevent hacking?
Bowers says prevention is best, and since the easiest way for someone to install something malicious is by actually having physically getting your phone for a few seconds, he says to be careful with your electronics.
Here are his tips that he personally follows:
- Don't let people borrow your phone.
- Don't use programs you don't know, such as black and white QR codes from sources you don't trust.
- Do lock your phone, and encrypt it if you can.
- When not using Bluetooth or wireless, turn it off.
What devices are most vulnerable?
Bowers says virtually any phone, computer or tablet can be broken into, but cell phones tend to be the most easy to access.
iPhones can sometimes be more difficult because they don't accept pop-ups or foreign programs as easily. For those with Android phones or tablets, he advises looking into anti-virus programs.
"Your web browsers on your laptop typically have pop-up blockers, anti-virus software, things like that. Cell phones, if you're using Androids, you should have anti-virus software, but they don't always put them on there," Bowers said.