Online Privacy: 10 Surprisingly Terrifying Ways Your Online Life Can Be Tracked


The allegation that US and UK intelligence agents hacked a global SIM card manufacturer, in order to steal the ‘digital keys’ to potentially billions of mobile phones, is arguably most disturbing precisely because it isn’t that surprising.

There has been a torrent of revelations lately about the ability of governments, hackers and essentially anyone on the internet to track your online movements. But judging by the muted mainstream reaction on social media, the addition of SIM cards to the mix feels like just another straw on the back of an increasingly stressed camel.

Yes, the stolen encryption data means that spooks are probably able to read your phone calls and texts without permission. But that’s just the start.

Here are the nine other incredibly disturbing - and real - ways you can be tracked online that (a) you probably didn’t know about, and (b) you more or less assumed were happening all along.

Your Contacts Can Be Stolen Via Bluetooth

Malware has been found in the wild - most notably the ‘Flame’ virus allegedly released by a major government to target Iranian government systems and discovered in 2012 - which is able to use a PC’s Bluetooth chip to search for and download contact names and numbers from nearby phones.

Your Conversations Can Be Recorded

The same virus (see above) was also able to use a computer’s internal microphone to record conversations occurring both on Skype and in the vicinity of the machine, and send them back to the originator of the malware. Security experts suggest that the same thing is possible with certain types of mobile devices — as well as various brands of Smart TVs.

Spies Can Track You Through Your Battery

Wired reports that researchers at Stanford University and Israel’s defense research group Rafael have developed techniques called 'PowerSpy', which can track your location just by watching how your phone drains power. So far it only works when trying to select between different possible routes a user has taken, but since battery information is freely available to any app on most major mobile operating systems, it's a disturbing new direction for hackers to - potentially - explore.

Your Wireless Keyboard Can Be Tracked

Various types of wireless keyboards - particularly those which use older wireless radios and not Bluetooth - can be tracked remotely by relatively simple, cheap devices able to record keystrokes, and search automatically for passwords.

Your Car’s GPS Chip Can Be Tracked

Given that an increasing number of cars have communications built into their core computer systems, researchers have shown that it is not tremendously difficult for a third party to hack your GPS navigation system - either to track it, or to redirect it. It sounds unlikely, but it’s actively being looked at by governments concerned with the possibility terrorists could cause havoc on highways through a mass attack on GPS systems.

Your ‘Smart’ Home Alarm System Is Totally Hackable

You know that expensive system you bought to tell you when your house is being burgled - also known as ‘hacking, old school’? Yeah, that’s hackable - as reported by Wired in 2014.

Someone Might Be Watching Your Webcam

Your baby monitor, laptop webcam and even the camera in your smartphone could be broadcasting live, free and unencrypted on the internet right now if the right piece of malware has been sent your way.

Your Kettle Can Be Hacked

Got an iKettle? Great! It’s a fun, though flawed way to boil water when you’re still in bed. The bad news? Hackable. The same thing applies to any smart device you have in your phone - whether that’s a futuristic fridge, LED lights or just your network-connected hard drive.

Your Contactless Card Is Hackable

The good news with contactless cards is that they do have a significant amount of security software built in - and there’s a payment limit which restricts your vulnerability. The bad news is that they are also vulnerable to spoofing, and researchers say there is a good chance hackers are working on, or deploying systems which can remotely clone your card using hacked payment points, ATMs or other devices.

You Could Be Held To Ransom

One of the more terrifying, and if it hasn’t actually happened to you almost unbelievable forms of hack is ransomware. And it’s just what it sounds like. A hacker will take control of your PC and demand money for you to get it back - even though there is no way to be sure that will actually happen. Microsoft has a lot of advice on the topic here.

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