The New York Attorney General's Office has fined $410,000 for spyware developer Patrick Hinchey, who illegally promoted his surveillance tools with the help of 16 companies.
Prosecutors also ordered Patrick Hinchey to change the way he markets his products and inform device owners that their phones are being secretly tracked using one of his many apps - Auto Forward, Easy Spy, DDI Utilities, Highster Mobile, PhoneSpector, Surepoint, and TurboSpy.
Hinchey provides client companies with his spyware, which allows you to track other people's phones without the knowledge of users. In some cases, they are also used to monitor the online activity of targets and collect sensitive information about users, which can later be used for blackmail or various other malicious purposes.
These surveillance apps have allowed clients to secretly monitor other people's activities on their mobile devices, including:
- browsing history;
- call logs;
- text messages;
- photos and videos;
- email activity;
- WhatsApp and Skype chats;
- activity in social networks.
According to the convention, some apps also allowed the user to remotely activate the target device's camera or microphone. According to the Attorney General, the applications copy information from the device and transfer it to the company's servers, where it is available to the client. Another service allows customers to exfiltrate data from the target iCloud server if the customer has access to the login details.
To advertise its programs, the developer created ostensibly independent product review websites that posted rave reviews about the benefits of using spyware. One blog post claimed that the PhoneSpector application "allows the client to monitor all telephone activity of the target user without the risk of being caught as a spy."
The marketing materials did not mention that in the US, as in most parts of the world, it is illegal to access and control a third party device without the consent of its owner.
Despite the promotion of spy products, the terms and conditions page on most marketing websites states that such use violates New York State and federal laws. Despite the illegality of surveillance without consent, the products themselves remain available, including for monitoring the device of a minor without his consent.