CEO Behind StealthGenie Spyware App Indicted
Hammad Akbar is accused of producing software that can monitor calls, texts, videos, and more without detection.
The head of development firm InvoCode has been indicted for allegedly conspiring to advertise and sell a mobile spyware application.
Hammad Akbar, CEO of the U.K.-based company, and his associates are accused of creating the StealthGenie app, which intercepts communications to and from Apple, Google, and BlackBerry phones.
According to FBI Assistant Director in Charge, Andrew McCabe, the service, which was advertised as being untraceable, allowed stalkers and criminals to gain access to confidential communications.
"They do this not by breaking into their homes or offices, but by physically installing spyware on unwitting victim's phones and illegally tracking an individual's every move," McCabe said in a statement.
In fact, the app reportedly recorded all incoming and outgoing phone calls, intercepted and monitored calls, and allowed the operator to activate the phone and listen in on surrounding conversations within a 15-foot radius.
StealthGenie also granted access to the victim's incoming and outgoing email and SMS messages, voicemail, address book, calendar, photos, and videos—all without the phone owner's knowledge.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 31-year-old Akbar, of Lahore, Pakistan, was charged with conspiracy, sale of a surreptitious interception device, advertisement of a known interception device, and advertising a device as a surreptitious interception device.
He was arrested in Los Angeles on Sept. 27 and appeared in a California district court yesterday.
"Selling spyware is not just reprehensible, it's a crime," Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell said in a statement, adding that apps like StealthGenie are designed specifically for stalkers and domestic abusers.
The application's business plan even spelled that out, stating that the target audience was cheating spouses and romantic partners, "or [people who] just want to monitor them."
All it took to download was a few minutes with the victim's cell phone, and the user could then sync intercepted communications to any Web-enabled device.
"The Criminal Division is committed to cracking down on those who seek to profit from technology designed and used to commit brazen invasions of individual privacy," Caldwell said.
McCabe mirrored that sentiment, adding that as "technology continues to evolve, the FBI will investigate and bring to justice those who use illegal means to monitor and track individuals without their knowledge."
US DOJ Press Release:
Department of Justice
Office of Public Affairs
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Monday, September 29, 2014
Pakistani Man Indicted for Selling 'StealthGenie' Spyware App
A Pakistani man has been indicted in the Eastern District of Virginia for allegedly conspiring to advertise and sell StealthGenie, a spyware application (app) that could monitor calls, texts, videos and other communications on mobile phones without detection. This marks the first-ever criminal case concerning the advertisement and sale of a mobile device spyware app.
Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Dana J. Boente of the Eastern District of Virginia and Assistant Director in Charge Andrew McCabe of the FBI’s Washington Field Office made the announcement.
“Selling spyware is not just reprehensible, it’s a crime,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell. “Apps like StealthGenie are expressly designed for use by stalkers and domestic abusers who want to know every detail of a victim’s personal life – all without the victim’s knowledge. The Criminal Division is committed to cracking down on those who seek to profit from technology designed and used to commit brazen invasions of individual privacy.”
“StealthGenie has little use beyond invading a victim’s privacy” said U.S. Attorney Boente. “Advertising and selling spyware technology is a criminal offense, and such conduct will be aggressively pursued by this office and our law enforcement partners.”
“This application allegedly equips potential stalkers and criminals with a means to invade an individual’s confidential communications,” said FBI Assistant Director in Charge McCabe. “They do this not by breaking into their homes or offices, but by physically installing spyware on unwitting victim’s phones and illegally tracking an individual’s every move. As technology continues to evolve, the FBI will investigate and bring to justice those who use illegal means to monitor and track individuals without their knowledge.”
According to allegations in the indictment, Hammad Akbar, 31, of Lahore, Pakistan, is the chief executive officer of InvoCode Pvt Ltd, the company that advertises and sells StealthGenie online. Akbar and his co-conspirators allegedly created the spyware, which could intercept communications to and from mobile phones, including Apple’s iPhone, Google’s Android, and Blackberry Limited’s Blackberry. StealthGenie was undetectable by most users and was advertised as being untraceable.
Akbar was charged in the indictment with conspiracy, sale of a surreptitious interception device, advertisement of a known interception device and advertising a device as a surreptitious interception device. He was arrested in Los Angeles on Sept. 27, 2014, and is expected to appear before a magistrate judge in the Central District of California later today.
StealthGenie was hosted at a data center in Ashburn, Virginia. On Sept. 26, 2014, a federal judge in the Eastern District of Virginia issued a temporary restraining order authorizing the FBI to temporarily disable the website hosting StealthGenie.
The indictment alleges that StealthGenie’s capabilities included the following: it recorded all incoming/outgoing voice calls; it intercepted calls on the phone to be monitored while they take place; it allowed the purchaser to call the phone and activate it at any time to monitor all surrounding conversations within a 15-foot radius; and it allowed the purchaser to monitor the user’s incoming and outgoing e-mail messages and SMS messages, incoming voicemail messages, address book, calendar, photographs, and videos. All of these functions were enabled without the knowledge of the user of the phone.
Akbar and his co-conspirators allegedly programmed StealthGenie to synchronize communications intercepted by the app with the customer’s account so that the customer could review intercepted communications almost immediately from any computer with access to the Internet. To install the app, a purchaser needed to obtain physical control over the phone to be monitored for only a few minutes. The purchaser could then review communications intercepted from the monitored phone without ever again having physical control over the phone. Akbar and others alleged designed SteathGenie to be undetectable to users of the phone.
According to allegations in the indictment, the business plan for the development, sale and advertisement of StealthGenie stated that the target population for the marketing of the app was “[s]pousal cheat: Husband/Wife of (sic) boyfriend/girlfriend suspecting their other half of cheating or any other suspicious behaviour or if they just want to monitor them.” Language and testimonials on the StealthGenie website focused significantly on potential purchasers who did not have any ownership interest in the mobile phone to be monitored, including those suspecting a spouse or romantic partner of infidelity. The indictment alleges that Akbar and his co-conspirators fabricated the testimonials.
An indictment is merely an allegation, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.
This case is being investigated by the FBI’s Washington Field Office, and prosecuted by Trial Attorneys William A. Hall Jr. and Peter V. Roman of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay V. Prabhu of the Eastern District of Virginia.
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