8 Forensic Magazine | www.forensicmag.com JUNE 2016
Hidden apps are growing in popularity. While initially marketed as a way for teens to hide videos, photos, forbidden apps, and text messages from the watchful eyes of parents, the use of
hidden apps is quickly expanding. Hidden apps are increasingly used
for criminal activity. At the local level, they can be used as a tool to
facilitate drug transactions, sexual assaults, up-skirt photos, as well
as data exfiltration and theft. On a much larger and more dangerous
international scale, these apps can be used for recruitment purposes
by ISIS and other terrorist groups. Because hidden apps are becoming more common sources of evidentiary data in criminal cases, it is
essential that forensic investigators take the time to learn about them.
Otherwise, key evidence could be missed.
When it comes to hidden apps, awareness is critical. Forensic examiners must know these apps exist and how to find them. While there
are many hidden apps on the market today, new ones are introduced
virtually every day. A quick Internet search is an excellent way to stay
current on what’s available and trending in the world of hidden apps. Along with knowledge of what’s
out there, examiners must know how apps and data are being hidden to ensure they are not overlooked.
Types of Hidden Apps
There are three main ways to hide apps. Some users manipulate their phones to hide things in places
where they don’t belong. Others use apps that are designed to hide other apps inside. Then there are
“official” hidden apps (also known as decoy apps), which appear to do one thing while they are actually designed to do something else.
One of the most popular hidden apps is the calculator app—SpyCalc and Smart Hide Calculator are two examples. These apps are fully functioning calculators with a twist. Once a password is
entered, a new interface appears that allows users to access and store pictures, videos, documents or
files that are otherwise hidden to someone reviewing data on the phone. Audio Manager is another
popular hidden app, which as its name suggests, disguises itself as an audio manager that can be used
to turn volumes up and down (ringer, alarm and other volumes). If a user presses and holds the Audio
Manager title the actual hidden app, Hide It Pro, will appear.
The Best Secret Folder app hides the fact that an app is installed on the phone. At first glance the
folder looks innocuous, even empty depending on how it is configured. However, with the right combination the user can access apps that are hidden within the folder. Similar apps like Vaulty or Hide
It allow the user to dump other apps into the folder which then “disappear” to the unsuspecting eye.
The apps re-appear after pressing a particular area on the screen or putting in a PIN number.
A less technical, but commonly seen way to hide apps is for the user to create folders or nests of
folders on their phone that appear to be harmless, and then to store data they wish to hide within
that folder. They may even install an application that allows them to change an app’s icon so that it
appears to be a different app on the phone.
Cindy Murphy works for the City
of Madison, Wisc. Police Department.