Security Experts:

Man Pleads Guilty to Selling StealthGenie Spyware

A Danish citizen pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court to selling StealthGenie, a spyware application capable of remotely monitoring calls, texts, videos and other communications on mobile devices undetected.

Hammad Akbar, 31, chief executive officer of InvoCode Pvt. Limited and Cubitium Limited, was ordered to pay a fine of $500,000 for advertising and selling StealthGenie online. StealthGenie could be installed on a variety of mobile phones, including the iPhone, Android devices, and Blackberry. Once installed, it could intercept all conversations and text messages sent using the phone. The app was undetectable by most users and was advertised as being untraceable, according to authorities.

"Spyware is an electronic eavesdropping tool that secretly and illegally invades individual privacy," said Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell, in a statement. "Make no mistake: selling spyware is a federal crime, and the Criminal Division will make a federal case out if it. [Tuesday's] guilty plea by a creator of the StealthGenie spyware is another demonstration of our commitment to prosecuting those who would invade personal privacy."

On Sept. 26, 2014, a court issued a temporary restraining order authorizing the FBI to temporarily disable the website hosting StealthGenie, which was hosted from a data center in Ashburn, Virginia. The court later converted the order into a temporary injunction, and the website remains offline. On Sept. 27, Akbar was arrested in Los Angeles. In addition to ordering him to pay the fine, the court sentenced him to time served and mandated that he forfeit the source code for StealthGenie to the government.

In order to install the app, the purchaser needed at least temporary possession of the target phone, according to authorities. Once the app was activated, it was started as a background service and set up to launch automatically when the phone was powered on. The only time that the app interacted with the screen was during activation, and the icon for the app was removed from the phone’s menu.  Akbar admitted that because of these characteristics, a typical smartphone user would not know that StealthGenie had been installed on his or her smartphone.   

Akbar also admitted to distributing an advertisement for StealthGenie through his website on Nov. 5, 2011, and to selling the app to an undercover agent of the FBI on Dec. 14, 2012, authorities said. 

"The defendant advertised and sold a spyware app that could be secretly installed on smart phones without the knowledge of the phones owner," said U.S. Attorney Dana J. Boente of the Eastern District of Virginia, in a statement. "This spyware app allowed individuals to intercept phone calls, electronic mail, text messages, voicemails and photographs of others. The product allowed for the wholesale invasion of privacy by other individuals, and this office in coordination with our law enforcement partners will prosecute not just users of apps like this, but the makers and marketers of such tools as well."

view counter