There are at least 17 fake cell phone towers that can be used to intercept phone calls. Who the towers belong too and what their ultimate purpose is remains unknown.
A host of “ultra-secure” cell phones have become popular on the market since the Edward Snowden leaks. One such phone, the Cryptophone 500 sold by ESD America, has been used to detect 17 fake cell towers, commonly called interceptors or stringrays, in the month of July alone. Les Goldsmith, CEO of ESD, explains,
“Interceptor use in the U.S. is much higher than people had anticipated. One of our customers took a road trip from Florida to North Carolina and he found eight different interceptors on that trip. We even found one at South Point Casino in Las Vegas.”
The towers are essentially radio-equipped computers designed with the ability to defeat normal phone encryption systems, whether it’s iOS, Android or other mainstream operating systems. It is important to note that these are not necessarily towers, but could just as likely be mobile installations designed for the same purpose.
Once a cell phone becomes connected to one of these fake towers a variety of actions becomes possible. The owner of the tower can eavesdrop on conversations or even upload spyware onto the device.
Who is building and using these towers is still unknown. The fake cell towers are expensive to build and maintain, and the skills needed to hack the processor that connects cell phones to towers, known as the baseband processor, are advanced. But the locations of the mysterious towers sheds some light onto the potential culprit. As Goldsmith explained,
“What we find suspicious is that a lot of these interceptors are right on top of U.S. military bases. So we begin to wonder – are some of them U.S. government interceptors? Or are some of them Chinese interceptors? Whose interceptor is it? Who are they, that’s listening to calls around military bases? Is it just the U.S. military, or are they foreign governments doing it? The point is: we don’t really know whose they are.”
It wouldn’t be unprecedented for the U.S. government to use the interceptors. Law enforcement have used the technology in the past; the Wall Street Journal reported that the FBI used it to catch Daniel David Rigmaiden for tax fraud, creating a debate over the constitutionality of this kind of advanced wiretapping. However, if it was the U.S. military using the interceptors without warrant or even suspicion of wrongdoing, the implications could add to distrust and controversy created by the Snowden leaks.
The full article from Popular Science on the fake cell towers can be found here.
[Image Credit: SayCheeeeeese via Wikimedia Commons]