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UK Police Buy Covert Cellphone Surveillance System 103

Posted by samzenpus
from the getting-a-better-net dept.
digitig writes "UK Metropolitan Police have purchased a 'covert surveillance technology that can masquerade as a mobile phone network, transmitting a signal that allows authorities to shut off phones remotely, intercept communications and gather data about thousands of users in a targeted area.' Other customers apparently include 'the U.S. Secret Service, the Ministry of Defence and regimes in the Middle East.'"
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UK Police Buy Covert Cellphone Surveillance System

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  • Question: (Score:4, Interesting)

    by muckracer (1204794) on Monday October 31, 2011 @05:29AM (#37892588)

    Will a phone in flight mode release its IMSI and IMEI identity codes?

    • by 1s44c (552956)

      Will a phone in flight mode release its IMSI and IMEI identity codes?

      How could it? Its radio is off.

      What use is a phone in flight mode though? It might still be a mini-computer but it's useless as a communication device.

      • by EdZ (755139)

        What use is a phone in flight mode though? It might still be a mini-computer

        There's your answer. My current phone is more powerful than all but one of the laptops that I've ever owned.

        From the description of the system (spoofs cellphone masts by being more powerful and thus preferred), you can simply set your phone not to roam outside your chosen network for voice calls as well as data.

        • by 1s44c (552956)

          What use is a phone in flight mode though? It might still be a mini-computer

          There's your answer. My current phone is more powerful than all but one of the laptops that I've ever owned.

          But as a communication device it's worthless. No phone network, no wifi. Mobile or not most computers are networked these days.

          If you want to develop software on a tiny screen or just play angry birds that's great.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward

            But as a communication device it's worthless. No phone network, no wifi.

            No. "Flight Mode" is just a shortcut which can be used instead of manually disabling cell communication, cell data, GPS, and wifi. You can shut down everything except wifi capability, for example.
            From what I read in the article this system generates a signal which spoofs the cell tower networks, and asks the devices to respond with unique phone info, etc. So as long as you have just the cellular portion of your phone shut down, it won't release anything but still remain useful via wifi.

            Assuming Android here

          • by Anonymous Coward

            But as a communication device it's worthless. No phone network, no wifi. Mobile or not most computers are networked these days.

            Android devices allow you to be in airplane mode and turn WIFI and bluetooth back on. Modern smart phones have multiple radios. Android allows you to turn them on/off individually. Which means with Android, you can be hidden from the carrier network and still have VoIP services.

        • by citizenr (871508)

          From the description of the system (spoofs cellphone masts by being more powerful and thus preferred), you can simply set your phone not to roam outside your chosen network for voice calls as well as data.

          Except work on GSM from last CCC has shown that doesnt work, phone will still say HI to every BTS it sees.

        • Presumablly they could set the device to masquerade as whatever network they wanted.

        • by jonbryce (703250)

          British phones don't roam outside their chosen network while inside the UK anyway, with the exception of Orange and T-Mobile, which are now the same company. This thing would pretend to be a mast for your phone company so it does connect.

      • by Splab (574204)

        Flight mode is *required* when you go flying, they require you to put your phone in to flight mode *then* shut it down.

        Old iPhones would do networking even when turned off (can't say for sure about android or newer), so there is your reason for flight mode, to make sure it stays quiet.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      There are always to ends of a stick. That scheme relies on devices' intelligent behavior. Phones could be hacked to ignore "the best signal cell-tower" or to emit false IMSI and IMEI at first, to test network sanity. If it accepts BS or takes too long to authenticate (it's a giveaway of Man in the Middle attack), ignore it!

      • by Travoltus (110240)

        Why not just turn the legitimate cell phone tower into a super spying device? This new thing sounds redundant.

        You need to connect to a cell phone tower to communicate. Make the cell phone tower the spy. Easy... right?

    • Re:Question: (Score:5, Interesting)

      by nahdude812 (88157) * on Monday October 31, 2011 @07:53AM (#37893146) Homepage

      There's an app for Android phones, called Antennas. It shows you the location and status of nearby towers, and can be configured to run and collect the status of nearby towers in the background.

      If a modified version of this app was used to crowd-source information about towers, false towers such as this could be identified. These mobile false towers will be physically located close to the interception victim, and will be a lot less powerful and have a lot less range than a typical tower. They'll also have less capacity than a normal tower, and maybe be physically located in an unusual spot (eg, on the street). These details should be able to be aggregated and the information used to warn about a new tower or a tower which has moved, or a tower whose signal strength is not on par with typical towers. Anyone curious about the status of a suspicious tower can drive out to its location and have a look to see if there's a real tower there, or instead it's a "news van" at that spot.

      It seems like on a rooted phone, you ought to be able to blacklist certain towers, maybe give the device a whitelist of verified towers to use in a certain area. Maybe even make that black/whitelisting selective - only disable suspicious towers when making / receiving a call (since it seems likely the purpose is not location awareness, but call interception).

  • by MrDoh! (71235)

    I thought they'd already had this stuff years ago.

    • Same here. And in any case, anything that goes over a network you don't control without verified end-to-end encryption should be considered unsecure.

  • by captainpanic (1173915) on Monday October 31, 2011 @05:32AM (#37892604)

    Pity really that some idiots actually feel safer when they are constantly monitored.

    • by Krneki (1192201)
      I'm pretty sure this violate every civilized county constitution regarding unwarranted surveillance. Yet we accept it.
      • by UpnAtom (551727)
        Britain has almost no rights left thanks to the Blair administration.
    • by AmiMoJo (196126) <mojo @ w orld3.net> on Monday October 31, 2011 @08:53AM (#37893520) Homepage

      I wrote to my last MP (free to do online via The Work For You) to complain about the ever increasing internet surveillance. In the letter I pointed out that saving a single life, or even many lives, is not justification for the loss of privacy and rights. If saving a life came before all other considerations we would ban cars and shut down the road network. Given that I asked why she voted for the new laws.

      Her response was along the lines of "it saved the life of a woman who was said she was going to commit suicide on Facebook because the police were able to backtrace her IP address".

      She lost her seat at the last election (I won't say which because it would reveal where I live and I value my privacy). Good riddance.

      • by Xest (935314)

        "She lost her seat at the last election (I won't say which because it would reveal where I live and I value my privacy). Good riddance."

        Right, and who replaced her? Someone with the same values no doubt?

        I e-mailed the Conservatives when they were in opposition a few years ago when the DEA was first mentioned as an idea as they were "seeking to get the views of the public" in their attempt to pursue power.

        I got a reply back from Jeremy Hunt which was almost word for word a press release from the RIAA, contai

        • by AmiMoJo (196126)

          Right, and who replaced her? Someone with the same values no doubt?

          Her replacement is at least more responsive and doesn't brown-nose as much, but being a Tory her party is in favour of reducing privacy.

          I also emailed all my MEPs when the EU was debating extending copyright terms. The Greens and Lib Dems were in favour of reducing them, although we now know for certain that the Lib Dems are full of shit. The Tory MEP was in favour of an extension and as in your experience basically parroted the BMI press release.

          So what it boils down to is that the Greens are the largest p

          • by coolmadsi (823103)

            I also emailed all my MEPs when the EU was debating extending copyright terms. The Greens and Lib Dems were in favour of reducing them, although we now know for certain that the Lib Dems are full of shit. The Tory MEP was in favour of an extension and as in your experience basically parroted the BMI press release.

            I think I got a similar email response when I emailed about copyright terms. I said I would be very interested in reading the sources he talked about that said it was should be extended, as everything I had read previously said the opposite, so I could ensure I had as much information as possible, and double-check any of my previous sources. I didn't get another reply.

            The current lot outside St. Paul's have just been evicted and will be history by the end of the week, and all the promises to ask the hard questions and have a debate by politicians are worthless. Most of the media hasn't even bothered to report what they are protesting about, other than some vague hippies-against-capitalism bullshit.

            I don't think they've been evicted yet...

            St Paul's suspends legal action against Occupy London protest
            Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/u [bbc.co.uk]

        • by UpnAtom (551727)
          Labour are still pushing ID cards???
          • by Xest (935314)

            According to the response I got back when Ed was "reaching out to the people for opinions", yes.

            I wasn't terribly surprised, Ed was afterall instrumental in Brown's government, not to mention his right had man Ed Balls and Ball's wife. Really, the party hasn't changed - just reshuffled minus Brown.

            David Milliband was probably their best hope for change in the short term, as he was a Blairite, that doesn't make him ideal of course, but it at least meant he's not an authoritarian-socialist Brownite.

            Which is o

    • by Yousef (66495)

      They miss their nannies...

    • You do realize, of course, that "Nineteen Eighty-Four" was a treatise against leftism, specifically Communism? No, you didn't realize that? Go back and read it again, and juxtapose it against what Communists believed from 1937-1941. Seriously.
      • Nonsense, Orwell himself was a communist. It was a message against supreme nationalism espoused by conservatives at the time.
        • Uh, no. Ever hear of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact? It's the basis for one of the main plot points of 1984. Orwell's disillusionment with Communism is the entire basis for the book. As in, he actually saw it in practice.

          Amazing how things can be "reinterpreted". Orwell would approve.

          • Do you have any proof of this disillusionment? I would be interested to read it. I have heard otherwise in that he remained a communist yet was obviously disillusioned by the betrayals done to the workers through things like the Ribbentrop Pact and Stalinism in general and the problems around revolution in general.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    So because there may be one bad guy in the area thousands of innocent people get their privacy invaded, and no doubt checked just too make sure they are doing nothing wrong.. I'm sickened by what the UK is becoming.

    • by 1s44c (552956)

      So because there may be one bad guy in the area thousands of innocent people get their privacy invaded, and no doubt checked just too make sure they are doing nothing wrong.. I'm sickened by what the UK is becoming.

      Not even one bad guy, one suspected bad guy. This trend is disturbing for sure.

    • Re:Just Wrong (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 31, 2011 @06:42AM (#37892884)

      This technology is not about "one guy". These are large-scale devices designed to track and suppress communication among protesters. Governments know that shit will hit the fan on a large scale eventually. They're just too corrupt and rotten to continue as they are doing right know without resistance. So they prepare.

      For example, in Germany, police already occasionally logs and tracks protesters (yes, peaceful ones). Sure, it was illegal, but who cares? There are no consequences for violating laws if the government does it.

      • by Anonymous Coward
        Exactly right - I watch the news and see the people rising up against their governments in the middle east and africa and it seems here, in the West, we've already progressed to the point where that's no longer an option. In the UK video surveillance is everywhere, we have laws against unauthorised assembly, we can be plucked off the street and held in a cell without evidence under anti terror laws, the police have guns and the polulation don't and now measures to shut down the kind of communications that m
  • between the customers?

    :

    UK Metropolitan Police, U.S. Secret Service, the Ministry of Defence and regimes in the Middle East

    • between the customers?

      :

      UK Metropolitan Police, U.S. Secret Service, the Ministry of Defence and regimes in the Middle East

      Their methods of suppressing rebellion and their forthrightness while doing so?

      • Wrong answer. Suppression is suppression, and that is pretty much the end of the equation. The protests in Syria seem to have left a couple hundred bodies in their wake. If/when the government decides to put a stop to OWS, you think the body count will be less? Oh, the cops will TRY not to kill anyoen, and they'll TRY nonlethal force first. But, when push comes to shove, the government will enforce it's will, and damn the body count.

        Ditto in the UK, Germany, or any other country.

        Colonel GoofDaffy set a

        • by bytesex (112972)

          Eh no. Sorry, I'm not *that* paranoid. There *is* a difference between Western countries and the rest.

          • by WNight (23683)

            Yeah, Western government pay more lip service to justice.

            95%+ of police officers in Toronto took their badge numbers off when kettling and illegally arresting protesters. Despite the extreme number of infractions not a single police officer, RCMP or local, recalls seeing ANYONE without their identification.

            This was done specifically so that charges couldn't be laid and sure enough police have been found not guilty for reason of lack of evidence in many beatings, not because nobody beat the person, but becau

  • by tucuxi (1146347) on Monday October 31, 2011 @05:55AM (#37892704)

    This seems like a law-enforcement version of the WASP drone featured at last summer's Black Hat / Defcon [slashdot.org]

    The big question is, since the technology has been available for a while, and is obviously useful for its stated purpose, that of oversight. Privacy-invading technologies will always exist, will always be useful for law-enforcement, and are due to increase the more we mesh our lives with technology. How will authorities deal with data filtering, retention, probable cause, and the opportunity for discovering wrongdoers vs. the invasion of people's privacy? That is the big question.

    A somewhat-rosy scenario is detailed in Charlie Stross' [wikipedia.org] Halting State series. The ugly scenario looks like 1984. Which one we choose depends on an educated public steering their politicians, instead of letting their politicians be steered by ??? and profit.

    • by AmiMoJo (196126)

      The problem is that the police can gather intelligence this way, even if it would normally be privileged (e.g. suspect talking to their legal representative). They couldn't use it in court, but unlike the US system it doesn't automatically make prosecution based on evidence gathered based on said intelligence impossible.

      This is just a knee-jerk reaction to the riots. Unfortunately we only ever knee-jerk privacy away, never suddenly realising we need to take it back.

      • by Rich0 (548339) on Monday October 31, 2011 @08:43AM (#37893448) Homepage

        Yup, listen in on conversation illegally and find out that the suspect will have incriminating evidence in their car on Tuesday at 10AM. Then at 10AM on Tuesday a cop happens to notice that they didn't signal 300 yards before changing lanes and pulls them over. Then they notice something unusual and search the car, and boom, you have a legal search finding evidence that can be used. The phone tap that led to it all would simply not be mentioned in court.

        Everybody violates the law 50 times a day, so if the cops need a reason to search you at any time chances are that you'll give them a legally valid one.

        • by Bucky24 (1943328)
          Whoa it's 300 YARDS of signaling before changing lanes? I usually don't even do 300 feet! That's ridiculous....
          • by Rich0 (548339)

            Eh, I think it is feet actually, but in any case I'm sure you violate any of 47 other regulations in the course of two miles of driving, just like everybody else...

  • Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sqr(twg) (2126054) on Monday October 31, 2011 @06:08AM (#37892764)

    Why would the police need to "masquerade" as a phone network. They can just get it from the *real* phone network. All phone companies comply with police requests, as long as they are legal. Oh, I see...

    • by 1s44c (552956)

      Why would the police need to "masquerade" as a phone network. They can just get it from the *real* phone network. All phone companies comply with police requests, as long as they are legal. Oh, I see...

      I don't think the phone networks are too fussy about checking the legality of requests.
      However if the police collect data illegally they can't use it in court. If they are not collecting evidence of wrongdoing what are they collecting this information for? It's either some kind of target selection thing or something altogether more sinister.

      • Re:Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Rich0 (548339) on Monday October 31, 2011 @08:48AM (#37893476) Homepage

        Doing stuff like this allows you to put EVERYBODY in a huge dragnet and see who is worth looking into more closely. You don't have to actually use any of the data you collect as evidence. You simply need to figure out who to target with legal methods.

        Suppose I sniff thousands of phone calls and find out that you are doing something I don't like - such as making drugs, or copying movies, or saying bad things about your school on Facebook, or whatever. I can't use that as evidence, but I know who you are now. Then I just walk down your street and notice that your grass is taller than the local ordinance allows, or claim that I heard a shout for help that seemed to be coming from your house and knock on the door. You open up the door and I happen to see something inside that is suspicious, or whatever. Now I have probable cause and can get a warrant, and I can carve another notch in my baton or whatever.

        Legally searching houses is expensive, and it ticks people off when you search the wrong ones. On the other hand, mass interception of phone/internet/etc is cheap and tells you who to target with legal techniques.

    • Sooner or later, even the government catches up with the thieves.
      • by Wowsers (1151731)

        Sooner or later, even the government catches up with the thieves.

        The problem is, at least in the UK, is that the GOVERNMENT are the thieves.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Gonoff (88518)

          No. The large international corporations, particularly the financial ones, are the thieves. The government is simply an obedient servant.
          I wouldn't call them a slave though. They are family and they do get benefits out of their obedience.

    • The real phone network probably doesn't have the capability built in to record phone calls, and a MITM GSM AP is quicker and cheaper than adding that capability...

    • Could this be used to prevent bombings?

      It seems that more and more, cell phones are being used as triggers for bombs. They are cheap, easily obtained and because the cell network is ubiquitous, the bombs can be detonated outside of line of sight or the range of other cheap radio transmitters (garage door openers, etc). The network also acts almost as a stegonographic mask, as there's no "unusual" radio signature and the spectrum is already flooded with active traffic.

      A device that could override and masqu

      • by Thing 1 (178996)
        Yeah because cell-phone bombs go off all the time around me. How about: preserve rights, then the 99% won't want justice? Then we won't need to protect these motorcades that seem so self-important.
  • The real problem with prohibiting secure phoning is that criminals [slashdot.org] can also wiretap conversations.

  • so who are Datong ? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Paul Lever
    Mr. Paul R.S. Lever serves as Non-Executive Chairman of the Board of Datong plc., since September 2005. He also acts as Chairman in a number of other organisations. He was formerly the Chairman of the National Criminal Intelligence Service (âoeNCISâ) and the National Crime Squad (âoeNCSâ), non-executive Chairman of BSM Group plc and Oxford Aviation Holdings Ltd and Chief Executive of Tube Investments â" small appliance operations, Crown Paints,

  • by morgauxo (974071) on Monday October 31, 2011 @09:23AM (#37893722)
    Ordinarily I would agree that any form of tapping which gets people not specifically mentioned in a court order is a case of a government intruding too far but...

    If you are talking on a cellphone.. or any other wireless device... broadcasting your conversation through the air... and you think your privacy is guaranteed you are a moron. Whatever you say you deserve to have heard and posted for all to see. Of course... given the way things have gone in the last 10 years I wouldn't really expect privacy on a landline either.

    I think people have way too much of a 'magic black box' mentality when it comes to technology. By not thinking about how the devices they depend on work they don't see their cellphones as a radio transmitter. Then even without a fake tower to connect to they broadcast their conversations for miles in all directions and expect privacy??? Sure cellular data is encrypted but there are people out there who can decode it. And then of course one just automatically assumes that their phone company plus all other phone companies along the path will play nice with the data...

    Maybe secrets are best told in person.
    • by Isao (153092)
      Another facet of this is that the devices can be tracked, whether or not the user is using it or making a call. As long as it is on and available to receive a call (communicating with the base) it can be identified and a coarse location determined. If it were me in the law-enforcement role, the way I would use this is to identify devices in an area of interest (the protest locations) and record the identifiers over a series of days/nights. Eliminating devices which did not appear during a majority of the
    • Sure cellular data is encrypted but there are people out there who can decode it.

      And there are people who can climb a phone pole and attatch a recorder to your phone line.

      I don't see any reason to treat cellphone calls different from landline calls just because the methods of gaining illicit access are different.

      • by morgauxo (974071)
        Someone tapping a line on a pole has to climb the pole and physically mess with equipment they don't own. It is quite possible they can be seen and caught in the process too.

        Someone listening to a radio signal doesn't have to tamper with anybody's property. They can just sit in their own home passively receiving while you beam your radio waves right to them. In my opinion if you don't want to share something with someone you shouldn't be sending it to them.
    • by Aryden (1872756)
      Or maybe since it's illegal for an individual to decode your encrypted transmissions, it should also be as well for your government to do so without probable cause and a warrant. There is no reason that any cop should be allowed to listen in on your dirty talk with your lady while in the privacy of your own flat. In order for them to setup surveillance across the street and listen to you with bubs, microphones etc, they are supposed to have a warrant, what's the difference here?
      • by morgauxo (974071)
        My point was that one shouldn't expect privacy over radio (that includes cellphones). That's all. I don't really want governments spying on anyone without a warrant in any way. I just think people should stop and think when using their wireless devices.. hey... I'm broadcasting... Maybe if there weren't laws keeping the law abiding citizens (a group of which few governments are members anyway) from decrypting wireless transmissions people wouldn't assume that nobody is listening.
  • Didn't the all avenging happy rollerblading ninja have one of these tools in his pocket protector? Can someone please tell me what they called it in the movie. At the time lots of 31337 h4x0rz where online asking how to get/build one for future fancy exploits.
    • Anyone who has their Phone Unlocked Legally by a Telephone Unlocking Provider like those guys wearing a turban on most street corners who do it for as little as ten bucks will evade this system in heart-beat. When you unlock your mobile phone you remove the service provider locks, that means you can not obtain the IMEI unless you the customer have it written down and are ready to part with it.

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