Fake Cell Phone Towers Across the US

Earlier this month, there were a bunch of stories about fake cell phone towers discovered around the US. These seem to be IMSI catchers, like Harris Corporation's Stingray, and are used to capture location information and potentially phone calls, text messages, and smart-phone Internet traffic. A couple of days ago, the Washington Post ran a story about fake cell phone towers in politically interesting places around Washington DC. In both cases, researchers used security software that's part of CryptoPhone from the German company GSMK. And in both cases, we don't know who is running these fake cell phone towers. Is it the US government? A foreign government? Multiple foreign governments? Criminals?

This is the problem with building an infrastructure of surveillance: you can't regulate who gets to use it. The FBI has been protecting Stingray like it's an enormous secret, but it's not a secret anymore. We are all vulnerable to everyone because the NSA wanted us to be vulnerable to them.

We have one infrastructure. We can't choose a world where the US gets to spy and the Chinese don't. We get to choose a world where everyone can spy, or a world where no one can spy. We can be secure from everyone, or vulnerable to anyone. And I'm tired of us choosing surveillance over security.

http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2013/09/meet-the-machines-that-steal-your-phones-data/ or http://tinyurl.com/o9vd4u9

http://www.wired.com/2014/09/cryptophone-firewall-identifies-rogue-cell-towers/ or http://tinyurl.com/m7ffx96
http://www.popsci.com/article/technology/mysterious-phony-cell-towers-could-be-intercepting-your-calls or http://tinyurl.com/mpx5vad
http://io9.com/fake-cell-phone-towers-could-be-taking-control-of-your-1630378142 or http://tinyurl.com/m45zvll
http://gizmodo.com/phony-cell-towers-could-be-intercepting-your-data-1629478616 or http://tinyurl.com/lqyzvva
http://venturebeat.com/2014/09/02/who-is-putting-up-interceptor-cell-towers-the-mystery-deepens/ or http://tinyurl.com/qhsjq9d

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/researchers-try-to-pull-back-curtain-on-surveillance-efforts-in-washington/2014/09/17/f8c1f590-3e81-11e4-b03f-de718edeb92f_story.html or http://tinyurl.com/pc2geg5


Fake Cellphone Towers Acting as Interceptors Discovered Across the United States

These can listen in on conversations, snoop in on text, push spyware to phones

By Gabriela Vatu on September 2nd, 2014


It seems like there are some entities out there that are doing their best to keep an eye on everything moving within the United States when it comes to communications. Seventeen cellphone towers have been discovered across America, looking just like you’d expect, but serving a completely different purpose – intercepting communications.

According to Popular Science, the discovery was made with the help of a heavily customized handset built for Android security called the CryptoPhone 500, which is marketed by EST America.

The device looks just like a Samsung Galaxy SIII, but features high-powered encryption. It is the highly sophisticated Android version that had been installed on the device that helped discover that the phone was leaking data to unknown locations 80-90 times per hour.

While this may indicate at first glance that the phones were being hacked, it seems like the issues are slightly different and more concerning. The problems the firewall was detecting weren’t attacks per se, but data leaks that were traced back to 17 mysterious cellphone towers that act as interceptors.

The phony constructions were detected by the CryptoPhone 500 during the month of July alone, which means that there can very well be quite a few more out there. Once a phone connects to it, a variety of “over-the-air” attacks become possible, which includes active eavesdropping on calls and reading text messages to pushing spyware to the device.

“Interceptor use in the US is much higher than people had anticipated. One of our customers took a road trip from Florida to North Carolina and he found 8 different interceptors on that trip. We even found one at South Point Casino in Las Vegas,” said Les Goldsmith, CEO of ESD America.

The problem is likely a lot more widespread than the company discovered. Either way, the level of privacy violation that is involved here is off the charts and it rivals the widespread data collection the NSA is so busy with.

These towers are equipped with radio computer with software that can use arcane cellular network protocols that override the onboard encryption. They are also quite pricey, running as high as $100,000 per tower, which reinforces the belief that this isn’t some random operation.

Interesting enough, Edward Snowden’s leaked documents have already revealed that the NSA is capable of over-the-air attacks that force the phone to fake a shut-down while leaving the microphone running, which turns the device into a bug.

The worst part is that people won’t even know that they are being spied on. The issues that the CryptoPhone detected while passing by such a tower left an iPhone and a Samsung Galaxy S4 completely unaffected.

Even so, the question remains – who is running these interceptors masked as regular cellphone towers? ESD America’s CEO says that it cannot be known for sure, but one thing’s certain – they’re right on top of US military basis, which can only lead to one conclusion – the government is involved. It’s either that the US government is collecting more data than it is letting us know, or some foreign power is spying on the US military.