Using inexpensive cell phones along with open source software computer science Ph.D. student Denis Foo Kune at the University of Minnesota, along associate professors Nick Hopper and Yongdae Kim as well as undergraduate student John Koelndorfer, has shown that any third party can track the location of your cell phone without your knowledge.
This happens because cell phone towers need to track subscribers in order to provide an efficient service so as Foo Kune puts it your cell phone network has to at least loosely track your phone within large regions which means like CB radios of the past the tower will broadcast a page to your phone and then wait for your phone to respond.
Due to this need to loosely track your phone the group at the university has been able to demonstrate that accessing the cell phone user’s location information is fairly easy.
“It has a low entry barrier,” Foo Kune said. “Being attainable through open source projects running on commodity software.”
Using an inexpensive phone and open source software, the researchers were able to track the location of cell phone users without their knowledge on the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) network, the predominant worldwide network.
In a field test, the research group was able to track the location of a test subject within a 10-block area as the subject traveled across an area of Minneapolis at a walking pace. The researchers used readily available equipment and no direct help from the service provider.
The group explains their work in a recently presented at the 19th Annual Network & Distributed System Security Symposium and was titled “Location Leaks on the GSM Air Interface”. The group has also contacted AT&T and Nokia with some low-cost options that could be implemented without changing the hardware.
What are the chances that those options will end up being utilized?