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WASHINGTON—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 victims’ 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 voice-mail 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 “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.