The Naval Warfare Surface Center in Crane, Indiana today revealed a smartphone app that puts the capability of modern smartphones to observe areas in sharp relief and shows the power of malware to tap into those capabilities. The app, PlaceRaider, is capable of running in the background of any smartphone running Android 2.3. While running in the background, it takes photos at random while recording the orientation and location of the phone. Those photos get sent back to a central server, where they can be used to reconstruct a pretty good idea of where the phone has physically been.

The Navy is interested in programs like this for obvious reasons: install the malware on the phone of a bad guy, then discover the entire layout of his hideout. But it’s also a reminder to users to be careful when installing apps. The most likely honeypot for something like PlaceRaider is a free camera app, so it would have access to the camera and related data. That app could be running in the background and revealing private information without the user knowing. It’s currently running on Android, but the researchers say the concepts apply to iOS and Windows Phone, so think twice before installing a dodgy app onto your phone.

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