"Rogue" Network Of Cellular Eavesdropping Devices Discovered Throughout Washington D.C.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has acknowledged a 2017 discovery of several "rogue devices" placed throughout Washington D.C. often used by spies and criminals to track and eavesdrop on private cellular devices, AP reports.

The DHS admission came in a March 26 response to a November request from Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden (D), however the agency did not say how many devices were detected or where they found them.

The agency’s response, obtained by The Associated Press from Wyden’s office, suggests little has been done about such equipment, known popularly as Stingrays after a brand common among U.S. police departments. The Federal Communications Commission, which regulates the nation’s airwaves, formed a task force on the subject four years ago, but it never produced a report and no longer meets regularly. -AP

American intelligence and law enforcement agencies use similar  eavesdropping equipment in the field, which can cost anywhere between $1,000 to around $200,000. The devices are typically the size of a briefcase but can be as small as a cell phone. Police use Stingrays to track down and implicate perpetrators of mainly domestic crimes.

The devices can be mounted in vehicles, drones, helicopters, and airplanes, allowing police to gain highly specific information on the location of any particular phone, down to a particular apartment complex or hotel room.

The Stingray units operate by tricking a cellular device into locking onto them instead of a legitimate cell tower - revealing the exact location of a particular phone. As AP notes, more sophisticated versions can eavesdrop on calls by forcing phones to step down to the older, unencrypted 2G wireless channel. Other Stingray devices can plant malware on a phone.

Thousands of members of the military, the NSA, the CIA, the FBI and the rest of the national-security apparatus live and work in the Washington area. The surveillance-savvy among them encrypt their phone and data communications and employ electronic countermeasures. But unsuspecting citizens could fall prey. -AP

The DHS reply from official Christopher Krebs said that the agency had observed "anomalous activity" consistent with Stingrays in the Washington area. Another DHS official speaking anonymously to AP says that the devices were detected during a three-month trial of equipment provided by Las Vegas-based agency contractor, ESD America.

Krebs notes in his letter that the DHS lacks the equipment and funding for wide-scale detection of Stingrays - even though their use by foreign governments "may threaten U.S. national and economic security."

Legislators have been raising alarms about the use of Stingrays in the capital since at least 2014, when Goldsmith and other security-company researchers conducted public sweeps that located suspected unauthorized devices near the White House, the Supreme Court, the Commerce Department and the Pentagon, among other locations.

The executive branch, however, has shied away from even discussing the subject.

Aaron Turner, president of the mobile security consultancy Integricell, was among the experts who conducted the 2014 sweeps, in part to try to drum up business. Little has changed since, he said.

Like other major world capitals, he said, Washington is awash in unauthorized interception devices. Foreign embassies have free rein because they are on sovereign soil. -AP

Turner says that every embassy “worth their salt” has a cell tower simulator installed, which they use “to track interesting people that come toward their embassies.” The Russians’ equipment is so powerful it can track targets a mile away, he said.

How to shut them down?

As AP notes, shutting down rogue stingray devices is an expensive prospect which would require the wireless industry to completely upgrade its infrastructure, which security experts say companies are loathe to pay for.

The upgrade could also lead to conflict with U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies. At least 25 states and the District of Columbia use the devices, according to the ACLU.

After the 2014 news reports about Stingrays in Washington, Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla, wrote the FCC in alarm. In a reply, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said the agency had created a task force to combat illicit and unauthorized use of the devices. In that letter, the FCC did not say it had identified such use itself but cited media reports of the security sweeps.

That task force appears to have accomplished little. A former adviser to Wheeler, Gigi Sohn, said there was no political will to tackle the issue against opposition from the intelligence community and local police forces that were using the devices “willy-nilly.” -AP

To the extent that there is a major problem here, it’s largely due to the FCC not doing its job,” said Laura Moy of the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown University. Moy says that the agency should require wireless carriers to protect their networks, thus “ensuring that anyone transmitting over licensed spectrum actually has a license to do it.

The FCC, however, said the agency's only role is "certifying" that said devices don't interfere with other wireless communications.

In other words, despite the prevalence of stingray devices throughout our nation's capital and most assuredly in use across the rest of the United States, nobody seems to be able to do anything about it.

Comments

Shemp 4 Victory Row Well Number 41 Tue, 04/03/2018 - 19:16 Permalink

 

Aaron Turner, president of the mobile security consultancy Integricell, was among the experts who conducted the 2014 sweeps, in part to try to drum up business.

Well, if you're trying to drum up business, you'll need to include some hysterical Red Menace® fear of Russia in your sales pitch. Fear sells in the home of the brave, but terrorists are passé. Tell 'em Putin is personally listening to all of their calls.

Turner says that every embassy “worth their salt” has a cell tower simulator installed, which they use “to track interesting people that come toward their embassies.” The Russians’ equipment is so powerful it can track targets a mile away, he said.

Good, good, but you need to hype it a little more. Say that the Russians can track multiple targets within a two kilometer radius. Most folks in DC have no idea whether a kilometer is longer or shorter than a mile, but they know that two is more than one. Plus, kilometer is metric, thus foreign, which makes the term even more menacing. Radius is associated with math, so enough said.

there was no political will to tackle the issue against opposition from the intelligence community

 That's one of the best 15-word summations of Vichy DC that I've ever seen.

In reply to by Row Well Number 41

manofthenorth beepbop Tue, 04/03/2018 - 19:49 Permalink

SPY VS SPY

A former adviser to Wheeler, Gigi Sohn, said there was no political will to tackle the issue against opposition from the intelligence community and local police forces that were using the devices “willy-nilly.”

Translation; everyone wants to be able to spy on everyone ???

Some freedom you got there.

In reply to by beepbop

Winston Churchill Tue, 04/03/2018 - 18:59 Permalink

The law of unintended consequences sure bites hard into your arse.

Hackers exploiting NSA back doors, and now the police state surveilance  eating its own tail.

The internet red pilling the serfs as well.Entropy is grand.

Our owners really are maroons at times.

nmewn Ladioss Tue, 04/03/2018 - 19:27 Permalink

Don't get me goin on our supposedly "free press" trained at Columbia J-School of Propaganda...lol...that idiotic muscle reflex of the elbow for..."emphasis"...in reporting and the bouncing up & down (toe-to-heel, again, for emphasis on what they are saying) is moar than I can bear.

Overpaid, talking head, automatons. 

"Thats an excellent question Wolf!"...geeebus...AAAGGGHHH!!!...SHUT UP!!!...lol.

In reply to by Ladioss

Urban Roman JimmyRainbow Tue, 04/03/2018 - 22:52 Permalink

Problem is, the device described in the article is so much electronic junk now. You'd be better off grinding it up for the gold and silver.

The description says the device encourages people's phones to use a 2G network, which it fakes (easy to fake because 2G didn't use encryption) ... the thing is, very few smartphones are even capable of 2G any more. How many users still have an iPhone 1.0? Or a first-generation Android? You might see one every now and then, and say "wow, what an old phone you have!", but they are rare.

If your phone is less than ten years old, you are safe from this pile of crap.

In reply to by JimmyRainbow