The U.S. Department of Homeland Security publicly acknowledges that spying devices in Washington, D.C. were intercepting people’s cellphone calls and text messages

Friday, May 11, 2018 by

Law enforcement agencies have access to spying devices that intercept people’s cell phone calls and text messages. These devices, called cellular site simulators, are compact and can intercept cell phone data from any target. Embassies inside and outside the U.S. use these devices to track targets of interest. Officers are required to obtain a search warrant before using these secretive tracking devices, but any criminal, spy or rogue law enforcement officer can use the technology unlawfully, tracking individuals of interest.

The StringRay II, manufactured by the Harris Corporation of Melbourne, Florida, is a cellular site simulator that has fallen into the wrong hands. In fact, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security publicly acknowledges that spying devices like the StringRay have been intercepting people’s cell phone calls and text messages.

A March 26 letter by the Department of Homeland Security revealed that cell site simulators were being used in the country’s capital without authorization. The letter states that the devices are being used by anonymous sources outside of law enforcement and that they pose a “real and growing risk” to the privacy and safety of people. The devices can be set up in the backs of trucks with very few antennas to intercept calls virtually anywhere. Some of devices are as compact as a cell phone and can be carried inside someone’s pocket.

Cell site simulators intercept calls and text messages by tricking phones into making a connection to the device. The cell site simulator acts as a fake cell tower. It can obtain a phone’s location and track its whereabouts. StringRay devices were particularly effective at intercepting older 2G networks. The 2G cell phone towers did not have to verify their identity; therefore, they could easily be “impersonated” by similar signals sent out by cell site simulators.

As cell phone networks have upgraded to 3G and 4G to fix these security issues, the makers of the spying devices have found new ways to exploit the networks. The newest spying devices force the upgraded networks to fall to the less secure 2G networks. Cooper Quintin, a senior technologist and security researcher at the Electronic Frontier Foundation says that the makers of cell site simulators claim that the devices “can intercept conversations and text messages” and potentially “plant malware in people’s cell phones.”

It’s not just a privacy concern — it’s about safety

The cell site simulators can be used as a weapon in various ways. Stalkers, sexual predators, and sex slavery rings could randomly target people they want to follow around, kidnap, and abuse. Cell site simulators are potentially dangerous because they can disrupt cell service for everyone in a particular area, cutting off access to 9-1-1 and other emergency calls. There is no way to effectively thwart these tracking devices from knowing your phone’s location, but you can use end-to-end encryption services to protect the content of your communications. Apps such as the Signal or WhatsApp protect your calls and texts. However, this doesn’t stop Android devices from tracking your phone’s location and sending it to Google Inc., even when the location tracking option is turned off.

Privacy is more important to people in specific occupations. Journalists, attorneys, judges and private investigators don’t want to become targets of the criminals, industries, or gangs they are going after. Holistic doctors and scholars researching vaccine safety should be aware that they could be targeted, monitored, framed, and potentially attacked. People who speak out against police and government abuses are likely targets as well. The implications of having no privacy are severe and can pose a grave threat to the safety of anyone.

For more on threats to your privacy, check out PrivacyWatch.News.

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