As if we didn’t have enough privacy worries, confirmation came this week that cell phone spying is actively taking place in the United States and specifically in Washington, DC.
Now this should really not come as a huge surprise, but the ease with which it can be done is a cause for concern. In DC, the Department of Homeland Security has confirmed that it has identified several “StingRay” devices in the city. These are devices that trick mobile phones into connecting to them instead of a legitimate cell tower. In so doing, they are able to intercept voice conversations and text messaging. Some experts suggest malware could also be installed onto connected devices, without the user knowing. These immitation cell towers are also able to track the location of a given device, making them an excellent tracking tool. What’s more is that these devices are not physically large. We are not talking about a fake cell tower that rises high into the skyline. Some say they can be as small as a cell phone, or like a moderately sized piece of audio equipment. There is even some thought that they are able to be deployed in low flying aircraft to not only lock on to a mobile device but to follow it almost without limit.
These devices are known to be in use by some police departments and the intelligence services. This partly explains a battle between the FCC and the wireless carriers around who is responsible for securing the wireless networks from these types of threats. Fully securing the wireless infrastucture could prevent police and intelligence services from carrying on surveillance that may be critical to national and local security.
This will not be an easy issue to address. If you’ve been thinking that your cell phone is immune to being intercepted, think again. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.