Holy malware, Batman! (Image from The Dark Knight / Warner Bros.)

Holy malware, Batman! (Image from The Dark Knight / Warner Bros.)

Smartphones have become a prevalent part of our lives, that we carry them anywhere — to work, to parties, to the bedroom, and even to the bathroom. This is why smartphones are also one of the things that can be used to spy upon us. You may have already heard about apps that eavesdrop on conversations even when the phone is idle.

But a new technology by the U.S. military goes beyond just eavesdropping. The PlaceRaider technology will actually reconstruct a 3D virtual model of your home, workplace, or just about any location, using the phone’s camera and orientation sensors.

If you remember how Lucuis Fox reconstructed a 3D image of a Hong Kong building’s interior in The Dark Knight using echo-imaging, this is similar. However, PlaceRaider uses the phone’s camera instead of sonar.

The technology is developed by the U.S. Naval Surface Warfare Center, and the malware or spyware aims to gather intelligence (a.k.a. steal information) from visual sources, which may include computer screens, documents and the like. The aim is to gather financial data, identity information, and just about any details that can be “seen” from the target’s location.

The app can run in the background of any Android device from 2.3 Gingerbread up. Blurry images and recordings from a pocket or in dark conditions are filtered out. Good images are then sent back to the developers’ servers, where a 3D representation is reconstructed based on location- and position-based inputs from the phone sensors. This includes GPS location direction and orientation.

According to Robert Templeman, who leads development of the app, a 3D representation makes it easier to gather intelligence than simple, raw photographs.

The developers recommend that smartphone manufacturers — and even users — secure themselves from this kind of attack by making sure the phone’s camera shutter sound cannot be muted. Another recommendation is the use of anti-malware and antivirus apps that alert the user of any infiltration.

Are you worried that Big Brother might be spying on you through your mobile device? Are you concerned about the moral implications of using smartphones to spy on everyone (just as Lucius Fox was)?

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