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United States Government Privacy Politics

US Suspects Listening Devices in Washington (apnews.com) 137

For the first time, the U.S. government has publicly acknowledged the existence in Washington of what appear to be rogue devices that foreign spies and criminal could be using to track individual cellphones and intercept calls and messages. From a report: The use of what are known as cellphone-site simulators by foreign powers has long been a concern, but American intelligence and law enforcement agencies -- which use such eavesdropping equipment themselves -- have been silent on the issue until now. In a March 26 letter to Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, the Department of Homeland Security acknowledged that last year it identified suspected unauthorized cell-site simulators in the nation's capital. The agency said it had not determined the type of devices in use or who might have been operating them. Nor did it say how many it detected or where.

The agency's response, obtained by The Associated Press from Wyden's office, suggests little has been done about such equipment, known popularly as Stingrays after a brand common among U.S. police departments. The Federal Communications Commission, which regulates the nation's airwaves, formed a task force on the subject four years ago, but it never produced a report and no longer meets regularly. The devices work by tricking mobile devices into locking onto them instead of legitimate cell towers, revealing the exact location of a particular cellphone. More sophisticated versions can eavesdrop on calls by forcing phones to step down to older, unencrypted 2G wireless technology. Some attempt to plant malware.

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US Suspects Listening Devices in Washington

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  • Foreign? Maybe ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 03, 2018 @03:09PM (#56374481)

    Sure, it could be foreign agencies .. that's plausible.

    It could also be that these groups found that every fucking law enforcement and government spy agency was doing so much of this shit they'd better just shut up about it and pretend it's all OK.

    Face it, America ... you live in a surveillance state, and most of your Constitution is now optional.

    Stop fucking claiming you still live in a free country, or don't live in an oligarchy which only really serves the interests of corporations and the wealthy -- because that hasn't been true in years.

    • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Tuesday April 03, 2018 @03:30PM (#56374621)

      They were set up by Melania. She's trying to keep an eye on Donald.

    • Face it, America ... you live in a surveillance state, and most of your Constitution is now optional.

      Comrade, we're doing a lot better than you. We still elect our leaders. Opposition figures aren't murdered by the ruling party. And we can speak out whenever we want without fear of ending up in a Siberian gulag.

      • Yes, Russia is worse. Somalia worse still. Congratulations, you win the Paralympic gold medal.
        Now try running your comparison against able-bodied countries.

    • Corporations are people too.
    • Meh. Hyperbole much? In reality, rights aren't absolute. We've actually got pretty darn good privacy freedoms in the USA. It's just not an absolute right to privacy under ANY situation. Same for the right to free speech. Great freedom of speech, just not quite ANY speech in ANY situation. Same goes for freedom to bear arms, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, life, liberty happiness and all the rest. Not saying our country is perfect. Far from it. Lots of work to be done. We should call out proble
    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      It's almost inevitable that everyone is spying on everyone else with these things.

    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      If it was foreign agencies the GCHQ, NSA, CIA, FBI, MI5 would all be sharing and looking globally.
      The collection systems have 3 stories.
      Criminals looking to track police, informants and city workers. To build a vast database of everyone working with and for police.
      Every face, licence plate and their cell phones. Everyone in and out of city and federal buildings in real time.
      Mulitnational companies tried of city and state regulations. Track every city worker and police to map out city enforcement.
      Wh
    • Da comrade American! Who else could it be but American intelligence agency and also a symptom of failed American constitution!

      Fuck off, Ivan.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Why the fuck are there not certificates, authorities, etc., like SSL?

    • Re:CA (Score:5, Interesting)

      by bobbied ( 2522392 ) on Tuesday April 03, 2018 @03:44PM (#56374713)

      Because... All of the backdoors required to make surveillance of the masses possible..

      Time for individual point to point encryption for just about everything..

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Because... All of the backdoors required to make surveillance of the masses possible..

        Time for individual point to point encryption for just about everything..

        Let's be a bit more specific. This is another typical NSA / NIST fuckup. When the cell phone systems originally started providing encryption, they looked at the systems. Instead of identifying problems and insisting they were fixed to improve the security of US civilian systems, they identified strengths such as the original stream cipher in GSM and insisted they were weakened. Now the backdoors / deliberately ignored faults they left in the systems are being used by foreign powers to monitor their own

    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      The UK wanted to listen into Ireland so the original cell phone networks just poor quality crypto.
      Just enough to keep out the media. Weak enough to allow mil real time listening.
      Police around the world like that standard and ensured all future cell phone products would be of that crypto quality.
      A good level of encryption for everyday use but would not stop any police and mil from getting voice prints.
  • Um (Score:5, Funny)

    by sacrilicious ( 316896 ) on Tuesday April 03, 2018 @03:11PM (#56374505) Homepage

    acknowledged the existence in Washington of what appear to be rogue devices that foreign spies and criminal.

    That sentence sure went off the rails.

  • This is totally manipulating the general public. Let's create more fear... rather than let the intelligence agencies do their job.

    Of course there are listening devices in Washington. They exist in Moscow as well- and all other countries.

    Here's how it works:

    Make people dumb everything down. Then scare the crap out of everyone. Then hold an election.

    Works almost always.

  • I imagine it is just the Russians and Chinese trying to keep up with what the other is up to. Or maybe its just the Russians spying on the Russians. There can't be anything interesting happening there originating from US sources.
  • by Luckyo ( 1726890 ) on Tuesday April 03, 2018 @03:18PM (#56374547)

    This is the original statement on which conjectures are based on:

    >Department of Homeland Security acknowledged that last year it identified suspected unauthorized cell-site simulators in the nation’s capital. The agency said it had not determined the type of devices in use or who might have been operating them. Nor did it say how many it detected or where.

    This statement suggests that someone in DHS Washington actually checked with every single signals intelligence agency in the country to ensure that whatever they found isn't one of their own.

    Considering the competition between various agencies within the state of US, I strongly suspect that what actually happened is that they couldn't get anyone domestic they asked to admit to having planted whatever they found, so they're working on assumption that it must be foreign by default. While it's most likely planted by one of the agencies, which may not even know it's theirs on the top of bureaucratic chain, must less be able and willing to pass this information on to DHS.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      I was wondering that myself. Maybe the CIA placed them and the incompetent FBI found them and immediately thought Russia. I call them incompetent because you can give them names of school shooters and they don't even bother investigating.

      • Trust no one. I learned that from an FBI agent. He had a funny name too, "Fox". Who names their kid after an animal? He liked to ramble on about alien abductions. He must have been awesome at his job for the FBI to keep him around.

      • I call them incompetent because you can give them names of school shooters and they don't even bother investigating.

        In 2016 the FBI received 1,300 tips per day.

        • The FBI claims 35,000 employees. Doesn't seem unreasonable. They might as well save cash and cancel the tip line if nobody bothers.

          • And it is reasonable to assume the FBI does not much more than answering phone tips. Or that you, ArchieBunker, avid slashdot poster, is in a situation to evaluate the efficiency of the FBI.

            We're both humans, so I'm going to suggest you reconsider this paid internet troll career path. Perhaps in post-Soviet Russian there is no other respectable path. In the USA, we have work for you here. I work with quite a few excellent Russian engineers. You have options.

    • I'm pretty sure it's illegal to operate such devices (exception for law enforcement, etc.), so if no domestic agency says "Yep, that's ours," then go and disable/destroy it anyway.

      Unless you're saying that DHS would risk leaving a foreign agency's device functional rather than risk disrupting a domestic agency's device, which I find highly believable. Another example where surveillance has made us less safe, from both our own government and others.

    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      Sure, it's possible that there are some US devices that the agencies are reluctant to own up to. But it's not really believable to assume all the devices are domestic.

      If I were Russia's SVR I'd have them all over the place in the US and EU. Wouldn't you?

  • I guess somebody detected an Alexa device from the owner of the Washington Post an got a paranoia seizure.

  • by HornWumpus ( 783565 ) on Tuesday April 03, 2018 @03:22PM (#56374569)

    Homeland security saw the NSA's fake towers. The NSA of course was spying on their natural enemy...the Defense Recon Agency...who were keeping an eye on the DEA, who were trying to intercept and 'tax' CIA's cocaine money (who were already paying a tax to the DRA).

    • That wouldn't surprise me as there are plenty of times where one agency has stumbled into another and neither are quite aware of it.

      I don't think the government should be too alarmed or surprised. They've been actively trying to surveil every single American. Someone should have informed those dipshits that category includes them as well.
      • It's gotta be fun when two fake towers start to steal each others traffic. Bet the newer one wins. Fake tower makers can make that work for them, I would.

        IIRC there was an incident during the last election where a good chunk of DC's cell network experienced real measurable, FCC reportable issues. Like two or more networks of fake towers threw RF tantrums. One likely got a patch that day.

      • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
        They are going full East Germany with their tracking of each others informants and undercover work.
        Someone then has to go back over each file and work out who is DEA, CIA, FBI, NSA, GCHQ, SAS, MI6 all over the USA.
        No one agency gets a total look down over all US law enfacement and collection systems due to spies, people of faith and political problems in every other agency.
    • Mostly this, with one Russian, two Chinese, and a half dozen Israeli devices thrown in for a good mix.

  • mmm yes without the lube for everyone

  • Department of Homeland Security acknowledged that last year it identified suspected unauthorized cell-site simulators in the nation's capital.

    Ha ha

    (in my best Nelson Muntz voice).

  • Not like they are picking any up in Washington anyways.
  • by kbahey ( 102895 ) on Tuesday April 03, 2018 @03:50PM (#56374763) Homepage

    One year ago, to the day ...

    With a map of where the devices where, and all the probable parties that would be using them ... domestic and foreign, friendly or otherwise ...

    CBC investigation finds cell phone trackers at work near Parliament Hill and embassies [www.cbc.ca].

  • What's surprising is how long it took you to figure it out.

    Oh, and all your cloud storage and Bluetooth make it so easy.

    • You know, that's what I wonder about. We live in a surveillance state, we are told. They know it all, we are told. But at what point, when we see the sketchy activity that we don't report because it's obviously THEM, do threats start to go unreported?

  • Self Inflicted (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ytene ( 4376651 ) on Tuesday April 03, 2018 @03:54PM (#56374795)
    We live in an age in which the bluray disk that you buy in the store will only operate correctly in a bluray player and TV that have contain appropriate encryption keys, yet our cell phone network - arguably something in need of *more* protection - lacks even the most basic handshaking or authentication capabilities. As users of this technology, we should be demanding Industry Standards which allow us to control the digital keys of networks and that we trust, so that we can actually look at our handset and determine which tower a device has paired with.

    This would not stop the authorities from conducting legal, authorized surveillance, because they could simply get a court order and have the appropriate tower operator[s] grant them access to the traffic. Unless, of course, they were conducting illegal surveillance of people and didn't have a court order, but that's hardly our problem...

    In a similar fashion, there was nothing stopping the makers of the so-called Stingray and other devices from having a configurable operator setup process in which, before "standing up" in operating mode, the device requires the operator to provide the number of numbers of a finite [but reasonably] number of handsets that the Stingray is to track. Say, for example, the a maximum of 100 cell phones]. Because the internal working of the Stingray could be designed to only "pair" with handsets on the list, the Stingray could only include data from legitimate targets, thus narrowing the scope for warrantless surveillance.

    Both of these techniques are entirely within our capability, today. Both would require only software changes [although I'd concede that the first is more of a protocol change].

    The fact that neither of these are even being discussed - that in fact there is no discussion concerning what might need to be done to ensure that surveillance remains proportionate, limited, controlled and of identified targets - should be ringing alarm bells - and not because of some simplistic, idealistic, libertarian dogma.

    All the evidence we have suggests that our security services are suffering from "data overload" - that whilst there might be valuable intelligence gathered today, our ability to sift it out of the noise is simply lacking. So far from limiting the ability of security services to "find the bad guys", steps like these would actually enhance our ability to do so, by helping to "filter out the noise".
  • by VeryFluffyBunny ( 5037285 ) on Tuesday April 03, 2018 @04:23PM (#56374959)

    I'm thinking about how this played out over the phone after the DHS discovered the devices:

    • DHS: Hello, this is special agent Norman Normal from DHS counter-espionage.
    • CIA: Hi there Norm, how can we help you?
    • DHS: Well, here's the thing. We've found some fake cell towers in Washington D.C. and were wondering if you guys know anything about them. Do you?
    • CIA: Sorry Norm. We can neither confirm nor deny any knowledge of any such devices on US soil. You know that it would be unconstitutional of us to interfere in domestic intelligence matters.
    • [long uncomfortable silence while the penny drops]
    • DHS: OK, sorry to take up your time. Bye.
    • CIA: Sorry we can't help. Have a nice day.
    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      CIA calls DEA and SUVs move out to protect the cell towers before DHS gets its crew out to investigate.
  • Not only can they not prevent wide-ranging conspiracies (911 and other terrorist attacks) they can't even detect and shut down foreign Stingrays? More likely, this is a case of:

    1) More calling wolf, like the accusation that Russia hacked an electrical grid, which turned out to be crap

    2) It's more Five Eyes [wikipedia.org] bullshit. The NSA knows perfectly well that these are devices installed by foreign governments - because the NSA helped Australia, Canada or the UK set them up in the first place to get around the 4th A

    • 2, you just jelling, either that or you've realized there is no escape from charges ...

    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      The NSA and MI6 are working with the GCHQ and CIA to push fake messages deep in the collection networks...
      Not realising the DHS are then handing all the fake messages over to US Army and Navy as its near their sites.
      The Army and Navy take their spy findings to the CIA and FBI.
  • by OrangeTide ( 124937 ) on Tuesday April 03, 2018 @04:27PM (#56374999) Homepage Journal

    If the US has been caught spying on close allies like Germany and Israel, then you can reasonably assume that Russia, China, North Korea, and others are spying on the US. (we've caught Israel spying on the US for example)

    At this point I assume that even the UK spies on the US. And that Sweden probably hosts spies from other countries at the Embassy of Sweden. I guess we all like keeping an eye on our friends and there is no such thing as absolute trust between nations.

  • Finally ! (Score:5, Funny)

    by bugs2squash ( 1132591 ) on Tuesday April 03, 2018 @06:18PM (#56375893)
    The good news out of Washington is that someone is listening to the electorate at last.
  • "For the first time, the U.S. government has publicly acknowledged the existence in Washington of what appear to be rogue devices that foreign spies and criminal could be using to track individual cellphones and intercept calls and messages"

    The only people using Stingrays are the Washington police and the state security apparatus.

    Stingray, the fake cell phone tower cops and carriers use to track your every move [extremetech.com]

    Stingray I/II Ground Based Geo-Location (Vehicular) [theintercept.com]
    • The only people using Stingrays are the Washington police and the state security apparatus.

      "Some people have X that does Y; therefore anything that does Y must be X" -> BIG, FAT LOGIC FAIL.

  • you see, do not do to others what you do not want to be done to you!!

    Karma is a bitch!

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