Secret ‘ghost’ apps hiding explicit images on smartphones
SMARTPHONES now have secret chambers, being used by teens to hide child pornography from authorities.
The “ghost” apps had been used by children for months before cyber expert Susan McLean caught on.
The secret vault apps look and work exactly like a calculator but once you punch in a sequence of numbers and press the equal sign, a whole chamber of photos, text messages and videos are exposed.
Ms McLean, a former member of Victoria Police, said the vault apps were giving a whole new meaning to cyber safety.
“Teachers and parents are oblivious and are looking at the face of the device thinking it’s fine,” she said.
“Kids started to use them to hide games and other things they should not have on their iPads or smartphones but now kids are using it to hide naked photos and sexts — that exact scenario is happening in Australia.”
NQ Vault is diguised to look like a speech bubble. Source: Supplied
The secret apps were brought to light after a recent sexting scandal in a Colorado high school where teenagers were concealing hundreds of images behind them.
Scarily, there is more than one vault app on the market in Australia’s Android and Apple stores, and Ms McLean said people as young as 11 and 12 were using them.
Hide It Pro is an app designed to look like an audio manager.
Once opened, it looks innocent enough to prying eyes.
Audio settings can be adjusted but the secret chamber is opened if a finger presses over the words “audio manager” at the top of the app.
NQ Vault is another app young people are downloading, disguised as a speech bubble.
“Kids are doing it because they know they have something to hide,” Ms McLean said.
“Police are now becoming aware these apps are out there and if you are doing the wrong thing you are going to get caught — it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.”
The former cop spends her time educating teens on the dangers of sexting and said many did not realise taking or sharing a nude picture of somebody under 18 was classifed as a child pornography.
“If you are loaded up with naked pictures then you are committing a criminal offence and there is a real risk you’ll be charged with child porn,” Ms McLean said.
“If somebody is taking the nude selfie they are making and transmitting child porn.
“Kids reckon it’s a great idea but it doesn’t cut it when we talk about breaches of the law.”In Victoria, child porn cases are judged on each individual incident but Ms McLean said the laws around producing and possessing child porn were very black and white in other states.
Teens are often put on the sex offenders register for a significant amount of time.
“What the other states need to do is come in line with Victoria and have a separate set of laws,” Ms McLean said.
“You’ll always find children with criminal intent but the vast majority of young people get caught up in this behaviour because they’ve just been stupid and made poor decisions.
“We need to be able to give them a consequence but it needs to be in line with the crime and the way the laws are structured in states other than Victoria do not allow that.
“We do not want kids placed on the sex offenders register because they were stupid.”
Ms McLean said sexting was bolstered by social media platforms like Snapchat.
“The potential for kids to misuse these apps is enormous,” she said.
“Kids don’t realise that on apps like Snapchat the pictures are permanent and they are retraceable.”
Ms McLean said many teenagers shared photos with their partner or potential partner as a way of flirting.
“It doesn’t show anything about your reseilience, self-esteem or self respect,” she said.
The cyber expert has dealt with young women in tears who have felt pressured to send naked photos.
There have been instances where boys threatened to share that image if she did not send more.
She blamed a highly sexualised society for normalising sexting.
“I had a really robust discussion with a girl in year 10 who kept saying she didn’t understand why she couldn’t send naked photos,” Ms McLean said.
“They see celebrities posting illicit images and think it’s OK to do the same but they need to realise celebrities don’t live in the real world.
“When I was growing up, if you went to a party the only opinions you would get were from people who saw you before you left or saw you at the party.
“Now a person will take a photo of themselves and put it on social media and suddenly everybody who sees it gets an opinion.”
Ms McLean said it wasn’t just teenagers using the “ghost” apps and it was a popular tool for people who were cheating on their partners.
To know if somebody is using the vault apps, know what the icons look like and check the device’s storage to see if an app is taking up a significant amount of storage.