spyphone - Daniel Bar-On - 20092011
A suspect in the "spyphone' software case. The illegal software can be used to hack into mobile phones. Photo by Daniel Bar-On
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Twenty-two people were arrested last week on suspicion of selling and distributing sophisticated software that allows hacking into and tracking mobile phones, police said on Monday, after a gag order was lifted on the case. Among those arrested were a number of private investigators.

The illegal software enables the user to eavesdrop on incoming and outgoing calls of the mobile phone under surveillance, read its text messages and track it.

One of the private investigators arrested told police the Prime Minister's Office was one of his clients and that even the police were interested in the software.

The Prime Minister's Office said on Monday it had not bought the so-called "spyphone" software and had not had any business dealings with any of the companies under investigation.

People who purchased the software could have it installed in the smartphone they wanted to spy on at the sales point or download it from a text message sent to it. Most of the clients were men and women who believed their partners were having affairs, police said.

Once installed, the software secretly records events on the target phone, delivering the information to the client's mobile phone via a text message. It enables listening to the target cell phone owner's conversations, reading their text messages and emails, remotely turning on their cell microphone and listening to surrounding conversations at any time, and tracking them from the GPS on their phone.

One of the Internet sites operated by a distributing company listed the following services. "What is said in the room in your absence?" "Is a client of yours being stolen right now?" "Is your partner loyal?" Where are your children now?" and "Want to know who your husband is running around with?"

An undercover police agent was sent to one of the distributing companies, asking to install the software on her partner's cell phone.

After gathering considerable evidence, the police began arresting private investigators, distributors and installers of the smartphone surveillance software.

Two suspects who allegedly operated Internet sites marketing the software, bought spy software kits in China for a low price and sold them for NIS 2,550-NIS 6,000 each, police suspect.

The distributors offered additional functions to businesses, such as taking photographs from the target phone and "stealing" its contact list.

An attorney for two of the suspects, Yehuda Shoshan, said the police would have difficulty proving the software distributors had eavesdropped on calls. Also, police did not have sufficient evidence to prove the software had been installed on cellphones that did not belong to the distributors' clients, he said.