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United States Cellphones Government Privacy

40 Cellphone-Tracking Devices Discovered Throughout Washington (nbcwashington.com) 62

The investigative news "I-Team" of a local TV station in Washington D.C. drove around with "a leading mobile security expert" -- and discovered dozens of StingRay devices mimicking cellphone towers to track phone and intercept calls in Maryland, Northern Virginia, and Washington, D.C. An anonymous reader quotes their report: The I-Team found them in high-profile areas like outside the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue and while driving across the 14th Street bridge into Crystal City... The I-Team's test phones detected 40 potential locations where the spy devices could be operating, while driving around for just a few hours. "I suppose if you spent more time you'd find even more," said D.C. Councilwoman Mary Cheh. "I have bad news for the public: Our privacy isn't what it once was..."

The good news is about half the devices the I-Team found were likely law enforcement investigating crimes or our government using the devices defensively to identify certain cellphone numbers as they approach important locations, said Aaron Turner, a leading mobile security expert... The I-Team got picked up [by StingRay devices] twice off of International Drive, right near the Chinese and Israeli embassies, then got another two hits along Massachusetts Avenue near Romania and Turkey... The phones appeared to remain connected to a fake tower the longest, right near the Russian Embassy.

StringRay devices are also being used in at least 25 states by police departments, according to the ACLU. The devices were authorized by the FCC back in 2011 for "federal, state, local public safety and law enforcement officials only" (and requiring coordination with the FBI).

But back in April the Associated Press reported that "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 criminals could be using to track individual cellphones and intercept calls and messages... 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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40 Cellphone-Tracking Devices Discovered Throughout Washington

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  • by ArchieBunker ( 132337 ) on Saturday May 19, 2018 @04:37PM (#56639870) Homepage

    Any chances a stingray is in a public location where it could be stolen? That would make for an interesting tear down.

    • Software fix? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Okian Warrior ( 537106 ) on Saturday May 19, 2018 @06:12PM (#56640176) Homepage Journal

      Cell phone towers broadcast an ID, and there are only about 215,000 of them in the US.

      Can this be fixed in software, by having the cell phone only communicate with known towers?

      (Yes, the towers change slowly over time, but not frequently enough to be a problem. It'd be like upgrading the maps on the GPS device in your car.)

      • Re:Software fix? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by AHuxley ( 892839 ) on Sunday May 20, 2018 @12:19AM (#56641304) Journal
        Re "Can this be fixed in software, by having the cell phone only communicate with known towers?"
        Depends who paid for the "new" tower.
        GCHQ wants to watch over the IRA in the USA? Interesting and sensitive sites get a new GCHQ tower in the USA without telling the NSA, FBI, DEA.
        CIA wants to watch over an embassy in the USA domestically but does not want the FBI knowing?
        DEA and FBI finds out about an Iran Contra like funding for other US clandestine "agencies" and needs to investigate?
        A big US brand is tied of having city investigators track and investigate their gig economy contractors.
        Set up a few fake towers near larger police stations and gov buildings to build up a database of all undercover city workers, police and informants.
        The gig economy company then has a real time database of all police, city workers, investigators, undercover informants, city contractors and can alter its practices in realtime to avoid most police/city enforcement.
        FBI finds out other US clandestine agencies are working with "freedom" fighters all over the USA to help spread "democracy" globally.
        The FBI would like digital details on and faces of every US backed "freedom" fighter thats in the US.
        US Army, Navy would like to know who is protesting for "peace" outside their base, camp, fort, port. Doing first amendment audits along the fence, using a camera and not showing photo ID off base when asked.

        The software detection really gets interesting when you have that kind of support to "create" a tower and have a real telco tower. A tower that can be pass any scan by police, FBI, NSA, CIA, police contractors trying to secure a police building, city workers as it is the type and size of a normal "telco" registered tower.
        The only way to be sure would be to sort lists of every tower that exists with every tower every telco really owns in that part of the USA.
        Find the telco towers that work 24/7 but no big brand telco worker has every worked on. The contractor supported "Room 641A" towers.

        The other reason why so many fake towers exist is that US police and state/federal task forces cannot trust any telco/court worker. So many investigations fail totally when cleared "staff" pass logs of real time investigations back to their own nations, cults, faith groups, criminals, the media due to their faith, for cash, staff with split loyalty to another nation.

        When a US investigation has enough budget, why not build your own cell tower that nobody will ever know about. Then just keep using it and upgrading the tech?
        Who is going to detect the real reason it was installed and report it? A competing telco? Another part of the US gov? Its just another telco looking tower thats always been in that location... Branding and kept to code.

        One tell could be the quality of equipment around the tower. Full backup kept to a spec no private sector telco in the area pays to keep their consumer networks.
        Over engineered, way to much cooling, battery and a big power supply that looks new due to years of real support and testing.
        A big quality fence, New CCTV in a box on a pole looking over the entire site, extra complex locks, lack of rust, no grass growing into equipment, quality cement was used on site.
        All the additional power, bandwidth. Upgrades done before any other telco finally moves to anew standard and upgrades.
        The much older idea was for a gov, mil to "clone" their own site an existing telco site. So a telco would build a tower and the gov/mil would have a tower site that looked the same near that side. Same style, size, power. But city maps would only show the telco site. Easy access to the data was needed site to site in the past so location and a short distance was a design consideration.
    • by BlueStrat ( 756137 ) on Saturday May 19, 2018 @07:14PM (#56640372)

      Any chances a stingray is in a public location where it could be stolen? That would make for an interesting tear down.

      Another interesting idea would be to build some R.F. "white noise" generators with a high-frequency R.F. diode and a few small passive components, use a solar cell to power it and charge a tiny battery, attach a length of wire to serve both as antenna and as a means of slinging it up and hanging it on the pole-mount where the Stingray units are mounted. It would be small, about a quarter the size of a cigarette pack.

      They only generate a very low level signal, but placed right next to the Stingray unit, would swamp the receiver's front-end rendering the unit useless.

      CB'ers used to use something similar against asshole CB'ers. Sling it into a tree or bushes on the property near the antenna, and the receiver of the CB hears nothing but noise.

      "Let them eat noise!"

      Strat

  • Good news? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by b0s0z0ku ( 752509 ) on Saturday May 19, 2018 @04:57PM (#56639936)
    That's "good news" that most of the devices are run by American cops and TLA's? I'd rather most of the devices be run by foreign embassies. At least they don't have an interest in meddling in the lives of the average American...
    • by Jahoda ( 2715225 )
      At least they don't have an interest in meddling in the lives of the average American...

      Well, it's kind of funny, dude: In this case, it really is true that as long as you're not a criminal piece of shit, you really don't have too much to worry about. Little advice for you: avoid collusion with foreign governments like your God Emperor, and you really don't have too much to worry about. =D

      Cheers!
      • by Anonymous Coward

        You are a criminal piece of shit if you don't follow the constitution. GTFO and take your fascist corporate run government with you, you fucking lackey POS.

  • by OYAHHH ( 322809 ) on Saturday May 19, 2018 @05:00PM (#56639940) Homepage

    Just because 40 cell phone trackers were "found" in DC area doesn't mean you, Slashdot reader, are the target. Let's face it if you are reading this you probably aren't worth the bandwidth to track.

    And I certainly place myself into that kettle....

  • I'm amazed at just how stupid our government officials are. We should be investing in massively better technological solutions designed from the ground up to minimize the intrusiveness of modern technology rather than investing in the deployment of stingrays and other technologies. There is no reason that the next generation of cellular technology couldn't be designed differently.

    Right now we subscribe to services (cellular provider) for instance rather than entirely decentralizing the technology. Each prov

    • What the heck are you talking about? The goal of all globalists/socialists is to create a totalitarian surveillance state, because they have to force people to act against their interests and being able to either dig up or plant dirt on them is the way you do it. This is *exactly* what you would expect them to do, and exactly the same sort of thing that has been done in similar situations in the past (Gestapo, Stasi, NKVD/KGB, etc).

      • Naa, the goal of socialists is to provide free (at the point of need) health care, ensure everyone has access to housing and can afford to eat and can live in safety.

        They may also provide certain key industries that are vital for the national interest, eg roads, public transport transport, power generation/distribution, defence and policing.

        Its always been a tactic of the American right to confuse socalism and totalitarianism. You can be socialist and totalitarian eg Soviet Russia, or you can be socialist a

  • by ErikTheRed ( 162431 ) on Saturday May 19, 2018 @05:18PM (#56639996) Homepage

    Of course embassies use their own microcells - running and monitoring their own is the only way they have any assurance that somebody else isn't doing it to them. And in that line of work, you can guarantee other groups would at least be trying - and you have to worry about the host country (especially US / China / Russia / Israel / etc) tapping the cellular and telco switches.

    And don't hold your breath waiting for more secure cellular communications (a reasonably straightforward exercise) - our Wise Overlords enjoy being able to snoop when they feel like it. Why do you think they're so upset about peer-to-peer encryption? They've been secretly abusing insecure standards for decades, and they want their unconsitutional toys back...

  • ... got yer leakers right here.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Notifying you if your're in a StingRay zone?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    In the 1960's when microwaves were used to transmit phone traffic between New York and Washington diplomatic calls were routinely intercepted by the CIA. Those who imagine electronic communications are private are living in a dream world.

    • 100% correct. Electronic communications (and networks) are NOT private or secure. Telegraph lines were monitored back in the 1800s.
  • by AndyKron ( 937105 ) on Saturday May 19, 2018 @08:50PM (#56640682)
    The good news is? Is there good news in any of this?
  • ...supposed to get a jump on bugging the Trump/Pence 2020 campaign?

  • Why don't we just take the next step: let the government run the entire cellular system. Free cell service for everybody!

I've noticed several design suggestions in your code.

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