CEO indicted for company's alleged mobile spyware app

The indictment of the Pakistani man is the first focused on an alleged mobile spyware app, the DOJ says

The CEO of a Pakistani company has been indicted in the U.S. for selling a product called StealthGenie that buyers could use to monitor calls, texts, videos and other communications on other people's mobile phones, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

The indictment of Hammad Akbar, 31, of Lahore, Pakistan, represents the first time the DOJ has brought a criminal case related to the marketing and sale of an alleged mobile spyware app, the DOJ said in a press release Monday.

Akbar is CEO of InvoCode, the company selling StealthGenie online. Akbar is among the creators of StealthGenie, which could intercept communications to and from mobile phones, including Apple, Android and BlackBerry devices, the DOJ said.

StealthGenie was undetectable by most people whose phones it was installed on and was advertised as being untraceable, the DOJ said.

Akbar was charged in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia 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 Saturday and is expected to appear before a magistrate judge in the Central District of California late Monday.

"Selling spyware is not just reprehensible, it's a crime," Leslie Caldwell, assistant attorney general in the DOJ's Criminal Division, said in a statement. "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."

StealthGenie was hosted at a data center in Ashburn, Virginia. On Friday, 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 StealthGenie.com website remained down on Monday.

StealthGenie allowed users to target mobile phone owners and record all incoming and outgoing voice calls, according to the indictment. It also allowed purchasers of the app to call the phone and monitor all surrounding conversations within a 15-foot radius, and to monitor the targeted user's incoming and outgoing email and text messages, incoming voicemail, address book, calendar, photographs and videos.

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, the DOJ alleged. To install the app, a purchaser needed to obtain physical control over the phone to be monitored for only a few minutes.

Invocode's target population for marketing the app was spouses, boyfriends and girlfriends who suspected their partners of cheating, the DOJ said. Testimonials on the StealthGenie website focused largely on potential purchasers who did not have any ownership interest in the mobile phone to be monitored. Akbar and his partners fabricated the testimonials, the DOJ alleged.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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