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Are your calls being intercepted? 17 fake cell towers discovered in one month

Darlene Storm | Sept. 3, 2014
CryptoPhone users found 17 fake "cell towers" in a month, but don't know who deployed them or why. If you think you'd know if your calls are being intercepted by seeing the phone connect to "2G," then think again.

VME Dominator is not the only 4G interceptor on the market. Martone Radio Technology also advertises 4G interception, and SS8 describes solutions for "Integrating Lawful Intercept into the Next Generation 4G LTE Network" (pdf). According to Goldsmith, "If you've been intercepted, in some cases it might show at the top that you've been forced from 4G down to 2G. But a decent interceptor won't show that.  It'll be set up to show you [falsely] that you're still on 4G. You'll think that you're on 4G, but you're actually being forced back to 2G."

Yet Ars Technica reported that law enforcement agencies are trying to come up with the funds to upgrade their "stingray" cellular surveillance systems before 2G and their ability to unconstitutionally spy on people becomes obsolete. AT&T, for example, will shut down its 2G network in 2017, but Verizon's network will support 2G until the "end of the decade."

Although it will be a long time before cell phones no longer support 2G, Johnny Law is working on upgrading Harris Corporation "Stingray" systems, with "Hailstorm," to support 4G LTE interception. The News Tribune in Tacoma reported on a March 2014 purchase order from the DEA, which stated, "The Hailstorm upgrade is necessary for the Stingray system to track 4G LTE phones."

According to Ars Technica, the Oakland Police Department, Fremont Police Department, and the Alameda County District Attorney joined forces by applying for a DHS grant to pay for the Hailstorm upgrade. "The entire upgrade will cost $460,000--including $205,000 in total Homeland Security grant money, and $50,000 from the Oakland Police Department (OPD)." In theory, more documents are being gathered and will be released this month by the Alameda County DA's office.

While the FCC seems to have known about cellular network vulnerabilities that stingrays exploit, last month it established a "task force" to investigate the "illicit and unauthorized use" use of stingrays. Instead of investigating law enforcement's use of such interceptors, the FCC "plans to study the extent to which criminal gangs and foreign intelligence services are using the devices against Americans." The FCC also refused the ACLU's FOIA request for stingray documents.

Meanwhile innocent Americans may be subjected to the "invasive surveillance technology" without ever knowing it is happening. ACLU technologist Christopher Soghoian said of stingray surveillance, "They are essentially searching the homes of innocent Americans to find one phone used by one person. It's like they're kicking down the doors of 50 homes and searching 50 homes because they don't know where the bad guy is."

If the framers of the Constitution could see how technology is being used against us, they would roll over in their graves.


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