Friday, November 14, 2014

Big Brother really is spying on your cellphone.

I keep posting these things because it seems hard to believe, but really, if you have a cell phone the cops know where you are down to TEN FEET if they want to. It doesn't have to be turned on, either.

The Justice Department is scooping up data from thousands of mobile phones through devices deployed on airplanes that mimic cellphone towers, a high-tech hunt for criminal suspects that is snagging a large number of innocent Americans, according to people familiar with the operations.

The U.S. Marshals Service program, which became fully functional around 2007, operates Cessna aircraft from at least five metropolitan-area airports, with a flying range covering most of the U.S. population, according to people familiar with the program.

Here's how it works.

Cellphones are programmed to connect automatically to the strongest cell tower signal. The device being used by the U.S. Marshals Service identifies itself as having the closest, strongest signal, even though it doesn't, and forces all the phones that can detect its signal to send in their unique registration information.

Even having encryption on a phone, such as the kind included on Apple Inc. 's iPhone 6, doesn't prevent this process.

The technology is aimed at locating cellphones linked to individuals under investigation by the government, including fugitives and drug dealers, but it collects information on cellphones belonging to people who aren't criminal suspects, these people said. They said the device determines which phones belong to suspects and "lets go" of the non-suspect phones.

They basically ping every phone in range as they fly over the city, and use triangulation to find the location of each phone. They say they "let go" of the info except on the phones they are actively searching for, but that's BS. The machine HAS TO KEEP A RECORD of every ping, because that's how it works. They may in fact flush the memory after every flight, but I have very little confidence that's what's being done. We'd have to be crazy to believe that, given the NSA and the license plate reading programs etc.

See, if all they do is fly this thing over the city every day for a few weeks, they build up a database that can track the movement of pretty much every phone. Where you work, where you live, which way you drive to and from, and all the other trips you make. And what other phones are at those locations. And so forth. So if they want to know where you were last Tuesday at 2pm, or where you will most likely be NEXT Tuesday at 2pm, they will.

Here's the killer part: so can anybody else. It isn't hard to build a box that acts like a cell tower. Here's some guys who built one and stuck it in a model airplane. That was three years ago. How many of these things are wafting about lately? We don't know. There's no way to tell. They can be made -small-, like a shoebox or less, including a big-ass battery to run it for six months. They can be in cars or sitting still on a light pole, bridge, mailbox, etc.

How to defend yourself? Use unidentified burner phones. Or stick your phone in a metal box for when you want your privacy, or take the battery out. Notice that you can't take the battery out of an iPhone. Convenient design for somebody, hmm?

Long term, I'm sure there's a way to detect if a "cell tower" is moving, and to have software that will not reply to a ping from a moving source. That leaves the surveillance performed by legit cell towers, but there's no way to avoid that. Its how they work.

Plan accordingly, my friends.

The Phantom


Occam said...

Worked for a couple of cell companies and this tech was being utilized by intel brokers back in the day - CS triangulation positioning is perfected now and modern processors can track thousands of handshake pings at a time - also the pingback from your phone produces a unique identifier which is logged.

iPhones are aptly named - they extract salable intel about you - they are a corporate surveillance tool not a personal communications aid.

Metallic ESD bags (Faraday cage) are cheap if you value your privacy.

The Phantom said...

I'd switch back to Blackberry, but the truth is ALL cellphones amount to a GPS ankle bracelet these days. Apple, Android, Blackberry, all the same.