Thursday, September 4, 2014

Be Vewy Vewy Qwiet

My wife and kids give me a hard time about my use - or more accurately, lack of use - of my cellphone. I leave it sitting on my dresser when I'm home. If anyone needs to reach me they can call my landline. I take it with me when I go out, but primarily as an emergency contact tool in case the truck breaks down, or something happens to a family member (God forbid). In short, I don't have a pathological need to be in constant touch with someone - anyone! - so we can exchange constant updates on the minutia in our lives ("I'm standing in line at the grocery store." ... "The line just moved." ... "I left the store and now am waiting at a red light." ... "The light just changed to green. Yay!")

The rest of the family mocks me for my Luddite ways, but now it looks like I was right all along to be wary.

Mysterious Fake Cellphone Towers Are Intercepting Calls All Over The US
Seventeen fake cellphone towers were discovered across the U.S. last week, according to a report in Popular Science.

Rather than offering you cellphone service, the towers appear to be connecting to nearby phones, bypassing their encryption, and either tapping calls or reading texts.

 Although it is unclear who owns the towers ... several of them were located near U.S. military bases.

"Whose interceptor is it? Who are they, that's listening to calls around military bases? Is it just the U.S. military, or are they foreign governments doing it? The point is: we don't really know whose they are..."
It's also worth noting that several are located at various ports of entry along our borders.

(Detailed story here.)

As if that's not bad enough, here's something else to worry about.
In an amazing coincidence, police departments in a handful of U.S. cities have been operating "Stingray" or "Hailstorm" towers, which — you guessed it — conduct surveillance on mobile phone activity.
And they're keeping very, very quiet about it.
Local law enforcement and federal agencies have taken extraordinary steps to conceal their use and have been reticent to disclose detailed information about their use.

I get the need to keep tabs on the bad guys. I just wish there was a way to do so without trampling the rights of everyone else.

UPDATE: It turns out that the 'towers' may not be actual physical structures.
There have been many comments to this story from people who are assuming that these 'towers' are physical installations. There's no reason to assume this is the case: it's far likelier that they are mobile installations of the kind used not only by law enforcement and government agencies, but also by scammers and other criminals.
(These mobile installations are) portable devices known as IMSI catchers, also known by the generic term "stingray." It acts like a fake cell tower and tricks your mobile device into connecting to it even if you are not on a call. It is used for real time location tracking; some can pinpoint you within two meters as well as eavesdrop and capture the contents of your communications.

Regardless of the physical form the technology takes, the main point remains:
While the FCC seems to have known about cellular network vulnerabilities that stingrays exploit, last month it established a “task force” to investigate the “illicit and unauthorized use” use of stingrays. Instead of investigating law enforcement’s use of such interceptors, the FCC “plans to study the extent to which criminal gangs and foreign intelligence services are using the devices against Americans.” The FCC also refused the ACLU’s FOIA request for stingray documents.

Meanwhile innocent Americans may be subjected to the “invasive surveillance technology” without ever knowing it is happening. ACLU technologist Christopher Soghoian said of stingray surveillance, “They are essentially searching the homes of innocent Americans to find one phone used by one person. It’s like they’re kicking down the doors of 50 homes and searching 50 homes because they don’t know where the bad guy is.”

If the framers of the Constitution could see how technology is being used against us, they would roll over in their graves.
(Thanks to commenter B for calling my attention to the need for this update.)


B said...

I call bullshit.

THe whole article is an ad for the "secure" handsets.

17 cell phone towers isn't a significant coverage of even Rhode Island. Hell even most counties in the east.

And a "stingray" is an entirely different thing.

CenTexTim said...

B - good point. See my update at the bottom of the original post.

Old NFO said...

You can see a catcher has your signal if your 4G goes to 2G... And these ARE near military bases... and probably will proliferate...

CenTexTim said...

Out where I live I'm lucky to get 2G, much less 3G. 4G is something I've only heard rumors about...