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GSM/GPS Tracking Device Found On Activist's Car At Circumvention Tech Festival 143

vivaoporto writes A GSM/GPS tracking device was found this March 4 on an activist's car attending the Circumvention Tech Festival in Valencia, Spain, a festival that proposes to gather "the community fighting censorship and surveillance for a week of conferences, workshops, hackathons, and social gatherings, featuring many of the Internet Freedom community's flagship events." They are now asking for the internet tech community for help in order to identify the device. Below verbatim is the plea for help published on the Tor Project website. The fine article also contains pictures of the device.

"On March 4th, 2015, we found a tracking device inside of the wheel well of a car belonging to an attendee of the Circumvention Tech Festival in Valencia, Spain. This was reported in the local media.

If you have information about this device — please send information to jacob at appelbaum dot net using gpg.

The device was magnetically mounted inside of the left wheel well of the car. The battery is attached by cable to the tracking device. The battery was magnetically mounted to the frame of the car. The tracking device was similarly magnetically mounted. The device itself has an external magnetically mounted GPS antenna. It has a very simple free hanging GSM antenna. The device included a Movistar SIM card for GSM network access. The entire device was wrapped in black tape."
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GSM/GPS Tracking Device Found On Activist's Car At Circumvention Tech Festival

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  • Heh. (Score:5, Funny)

    by ( 245670 ) on Friday March 06, 2015 @07:51PM (#49201487)
    It was probably a prank pulled by someone else at the festival.
    • by anyaristow ( 1448609 ) on Friday March 06, 2015 @07:56PM (#49201521)

      Or a publicity stunt by the "activist"

      • by sumdumass ( 711423 ) on Friday March 06, 2015 @08:29PM (#49201763) Journal

        Or someone crying in a corner telling her friend that he said he loved her but she couldn't be with him on the secretive trip out of town and not to call while he was gone.

        This tech is availible to anyone. There are a ton of possible explainations.

      • Yea, the device is a pretty amature build. Way too large for any TLA organizations, and the build sounds pretty fragile.

        I'm fairly certain I could do better with arduino shields from radio shack.

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) * <mojo@world3.nBLUEet minus berry> on Saturday March 07, 2015 @05:17AM (#49203559) Homepage Journal

        Do you know who Jacob Appelbaum is? He is one of the core Tor team members. He has represented Wikileaks at HOPE and given lectures based on the Snowden leaks, which he had access to. He has been targeted multiple times by the US authorities, including getting a court order for his Twitter account and repeatedly stopping him at the US border. He has had several laptops and phones seized.

        There is a huge amount of evidence that he is being targeted quite openly by various "security" services. This development is interesting but unsurprising.

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) *

          My bad, didn't parse the summary properly, ignore.

        • by ezdiy ( 2717051 )

          Do you know who Jacob Appelbaum is?

          Ironically, thats why most people shush it, because it is ioerror. The guy definitely knows how to make good PR, thats why Tor project keeps him aboard as a necessary spokesperson evil, however don't conflate talking heads with project contributors (he does basically nothing but ranting). Don't you think targeting someone who whines about it repeatedly since circa 2011 would be such a smart move?

          Chances are it's just the usual wikileaks-tier PR, be it paranoia or calcu

        • It struck me, that judging by how sloppy the tape job was, how poorly it was hidden and how non-state of the art the device was, it was more of a political statement than an serious investigation.

        • I have a friend who is a repo man - and the tracking devices he drops onto cars (like if he doesn't know where the person lives - he'll attach one of these and track it to his/her work and/or living address) are 100 times better packaged and more discrete than this. Properly installed you'd likely have a hard time finding it.

          Hence why I thought it was a prank - no way a government agency would be this sloppy and allow it to be found so easily. Who knows though.

    • by mrmeval ( 662166 )

      It could be
      done by
      1) them
      2) a fan without their knowledge to whip up the skeer or
            a) just as a prank
      3) It could be done by a bewildering number of government, quasi-government, eiteh at the national, regional or local level.
      4) A vigilante
      5) their ex.
      6) a crazy person targeting them for kidnapping because they know how well they will taste with carrots.

      i.e. apropos of nothing

      • by Z00L00K ( 682162 )

        Whenever you find a tracking device on your vehicle - stick it to some other vehicle. Preferably to something that travels a long distance (train car, truck trailer) or make random calls (delivery truck, taxi, cop car).

        • Sticking things to other people's vehicles is probably illegal (IANAL, but it's a fairly good guess), and certainly could get you in a whole hell of a lot of trouble. Now, sticking it in the mail, OTOH, probably isn't illegal, and achieves much the same result.

        • Put it on a railroad car.

    • by F34nor ( 321515 )

      Insightful not funny. THis does not look like work of the NSA this looks like hack-a-day.

  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Friday March 06, 2015 @08:00PM (#49201557)

    Take SIM out of GPS/GSM device. Install in cheap phone. Pass around between your friends to call sex lines (do they still exist?) order contraband, make srange calls at 3AM to various powerful political figures.

    Then see who's ass they go after in law enforcement.

    • by jonwil ( 467024 ) on Friday March 06, 2015 @08:10PM (#49201623)

      Better yet, go take the tracking device and stick it to the underside of a city garbage truck or something. The cops will be sent on a wild goose chase and whoever had the tracking device attached wont get tracked anymore.

      • Better yet, go take the tracking device and stick it to the underside of a city garbage truck or something. The cops will be sent on a wild goose chase and whoever had the tracking device attached wont get tracked anymore.

        I'd actually mail it to the headquarters of a TLA (CIA/NSA/FBI/KGB/GRU/MI5/MI6/ETC) - but first I'd pack it in a box filled with spare electronics, wire, and play-doh. The outside of the box might be liberally doused with Nitrogen (read: detects as explosives) based fertilizer that I use on my lawn. I'd also enclose a letter asking if it belongs to them. The same letter would also ask them to find the owner if is not theirs. Plus I'd have multiple copies of the video of me packing the thing up for shipment.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          I'm pretty sure that if you do this in the US, you'll get charged and convicted for terrorrism. And they'll give you the bill for the bomb disposal.

      • Or a long distance bus. "The monitor says the suspect is right in front of us, they must be in front of this bus!" (for 500 miles.)

      • The cops will be sent on a wild goose chase and whoever had the tracking device attached wont get tracked anymore.

        The tracking will continue undisturbed by the discovery of their decoy device.

    • Re:Have some fun (Score:5, Interesting)

      by sumdumass ( 711423 ) on Friday March 06, 2015 @08:40PM (#49201823) Journal

      Or purchase a burner phone, call it from the devicevwith the sim and record the number on the caller ID. From there you can track down who owns the number.

      Of course it probably sends GPS coordinates via sms. You could attempt to study the format and send bogus location reports like saying it is at the center of the fukishima reactor, the rim of some volcano, or in the middle of the ocean.

      Just hope it is not a rental car and the car company starts charging you credit card for excess mileage or out of boundry insurance coverages.

      • by pjt33 ( 739471 )

        It's not that easy to purchase a burner phone in Spain. You can't legally buy a phone contract (regular billing or pay-as-you-go) without supplying proof of identity for the national register.

        • by amorsen ( 7485 )

          You just need a phone, not a contract. Surely you can buy phones without sim cards?

          • by pjt33 ( 739471 )

            The idea in GPP was to call the burner phone with the SIM, not to put the SIM in the burner phone, so it does require both phone and contract.

    • Re:Have some fun (Score:4, Informative)

      by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) * <mojo@world3.nBLUEet minus berry> on Saturday March 07, 2015 @05:20AM (#49203565) Homepage Journal

      These types of SIM card usually don't allow you to make voice calls. They are machine-to-machine (M2M) SIMs that only do data, and sometimes text messages because SMS tends to be lower power and more reliable than data.

  • Based on how crappy this looks, I would guess either Chinese or Russian. I would also collect fingerprints - there must be a few dozen fingerprints on this device, if not on the black isolation tape, then possibly on the glue side of the tape. If you do find fingerprints, this isn't done by professionals, and you're probably OK. Could very well be the activist's wife suspecting he's not really going to a festival, and is instead planning on eloping with a secret lover. Everything is possible :-)

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by oodaloop ( 1229816 )
      The U.S. has devices like this, believe it or not. They're simple, effective, modular, fixable, etc. Tactical units love 'em. My first guess is they're from some U.S. unit.
      • by wonkey_monkey ( 2592601 ) on Friday March 06, 2015 @08:23PM (#49201725) Homepage

        My first guess is they're from some U.S. unit.

        What makes you think that? What makes the US the more likely suspect over, say, the Spanish? What what it happening in Spain, and the Spanish text on the device...

        • by hitmark ( 640295 )

          Spanish backed and supported by US resources?

          • Why must the US be involved?

            Or is just that Americans are simultaneously so angry at their government for spying on everyone, but also so proud of being top dog that they can't imagine the Spanish being able to do the same without US help? ;)

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        The text in the unit is in Spanish. It has an ID...

        Not considering a misdirection it seems to be a standard issue for Spanish secret police.
        They would buy the same material as the one in which they would have been educated, namely USA secret ops or FBI training.

        If the ID is sequential there are, at least 2200 units like this roaming Spain...

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Here's what the FBI was using 4 years ago.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      You were right, it was the wife. Trouble in paradise, how embarrassing!

    • Based on how crappy this looks, I would guess either Chinese or Russian.

      Wow! You must be a master detective! I would have guessed Spanish or Italian based on the language printed on the device.

      "Marron" could be French, but "Blanco" is definitely not French.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Based on the Spanish silkscreen on the device and the fact it happened in Spain, I'd say Spanish is a way better guess.

  • by OverlordQ ( 264228 ) on Friday March 06, 2015 @08:14PM (#49201655) Journal

    How the fuck would they notice that? Do they make it a habit to effectively strip search their entire car every time they get in it?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      It's a gathering of people fighting censorship and tracking and you think people there WOULDN'T check their cars?

    • Well given the nature of the conference... Perhaps someone was wandering around sniffing for radio emissions, or, the fellow took his car to the shop for maintenance.
      • by Threni ( 635302 )

        One thing's for sure - we're all aware of the conference now...something which wasn't true 24 hours ago.

    • I don't know about you, but I'd know pretty quickly if something was stuck in the wheel well of my car; it would sound funny when I was driving. I'd get out to see if there was something stuck in the wheel well, and... well there you have it.

      It's also possible that a bunch of people there had these stuck on their cars, and it was a freak chance that this one got found (just happened to be on the right angle, was inspecting tires/repairing a flat) or, considering the conference, they could have swept the ar

      • by TWX ( 665546 ) on Saturday March 07, 2015 @01:31AM (#49202899)
        You are completely incorrect. There are LOADS of places that you could stick this thing. There are even places that you could stick this thing where you could power it from the car's electrical system, or use the car's electrical system to charge the battery when the ignition is on.

        It's not all that difficult to open a hood. Sometimes you can stick your hand up from below the bumper cover, in between the radiator core support and the grille, and reach the mechanism. Other times you may need a tool, but it's easier to open a hood than it is to open a door.

        Do you know where your antenna mechanism sits? There's a bit of a compartment between the inner fender liner, the outer fender, and the firewall. On some cars it can be accessed when the front door is open.

        Some cars have plastic inner fender liners between the metal fender liner and the wheel, and often those are almost toolless to remove and install.

        Most cars have a metallic inner bumper behind a layer of plastic or styrofoam that's hidden behind the bumper cover. On many cars one could reach that area from below even easier than reaching for the hood latch, and with little more than an AC condenser coil and some lights there's no reason for a mechanic to go poking in there, so a tracker would probably go unnoticed for some time if placed there.

        Lastly, if they'd used a more automotive-looking project case they could have just attached it right next to the PCM under the hood, even tapping into a 12V wire to power it.

        This was placed where it was placed because someone was in an awful hurry. It was probably a busy public place, and they probably couldn't use cover-of-darkness, so it was either in a well-lit area at night or during the day. I don't expect that whoever did this had much of a budget. No project case, not even heatshrink wrapping to make it look like it belongs, just some amateurish use of black duct tape that would stand out as not belonging to even casual people. Plus the whole poor placement aspect should mean that they weren't especially well trained to do this either.
        • I once installed a new front bumper on a Honda CR-V.

          I removed the front bumper cover, the grille... and found a screwdriver and a pack of cigarettes sitting in a depression on a piece of the frame. Knowing the history of the car, I'd never had anyone else do work in that area, so I'm guessing it was left there during some manual stage of manufacturing.

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) *

          The problem with placing it inside the car is that you won't get a good GPS or mobile signal there. That's why the antennas on cars are on the outside, not hidden under the bodywork. If you are going to mount the antenna somewhere where the signal won't be blocked you might as well just mount the whole thing there.

          If anything, people are less likely to look in the wheel arch than the engine compartment. Wiper fluid, radiator fluid, alternator belts, fuses... All sorts of reasons to look in there. Under the

          • by TWX ( 665546 )
            I doubt that a thin plastic bumper cover would dramatically impact the reception of GPS. And an antenna wire could be hidden to place the antenna where it would be exposed if needed.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 06, 2015 @08:24PM (#49201731)

      From the Google translated local article:

      On February 8, after crossing the French border patrol agents of the National Police (CNP) was stopped at the toll Jonquera. "They told me it was a search routine, but it was very strange for an hour and a half because the vehicle was out of my field of vision, an agent took it and then came back to me" claims without understanding the reason for this police action.

      On March 1, in the city of Valencia, where he traveled to participate in the Circumvention Tech Festival , the second incident occurred. Only when it was parked and unloading your belongings appeared agents also the CNP, which was asked to identify her and those who accompanied him. The girl identified out that while "the police were placed around the car." "The two incidents in a time interval of three weeks I did and suspicion was when I decided to inspect the car," he concludes with a certain tone of indignation. The activist said that it will soon agree with your attorney when you decide what steps to from now.

      • by mi ( 197448 )

        On February 8, after crossing the French border patrol agents of the National Police (CNP) was stopped at the toll Jonquera. "They told me it was a search routine, but it was very strange for an hour and a half because the vehicle was out of my field of vision, an agent took it and then came back to me" claims without understanding the reason for this police action.

        I'm going to guess, this was when police installed the tracker.

        On March 1, in the city of Valencia, where he traveled to participate in the Circ

        • by pjt33 ( 739471 )

          Perhaps, the lady is suspected of being a Basque separatist or some such...

          It's more likely that she's suspected of being a Catalan separatist, but TFA doesn't give any hints as to what cause(s) she promotes or even what her name is. She's female, 37 years old, and lives in Barcelona. (Incidentally, I find it somewhat strange that Jacob Appelbaum, and thus also the copy-paste summary, talks about "the local media". It's local to where she lives, not to where the conference is taking place and the device was

      • So, while the car was out of his sight for the first incident, some evil government agency placed a tracker, and used it to track him to...a "Circumvention Tech Festival"? An advertised event, at a physical venue, with sponsors and a website. They needed a tracker to find people who went to this event. I see.

    • by gigaherz ( 2653757 ) on Friday March 06, 2015 @08:25PM (#49201733)
      The news article (in Catalan) says she searched her car after two incidents where the local police approached her for identification in unusual places, as if they knew where she was going. The second time it just seemed way too suspicious so she decided to search the car.
      • Well, then why are they asking for help identifying whose device this is? it obviously belongs to the government, and the government is illegally tracking people and needs to be replaced with a new one.
      • That makes a bit more sense then.

    • Given that these people being to

      the community fighting censorship and surveillance

      it's not entirely implausible that they do check their wheel wells every now and again.

      Of course, it's also not too unlikely that one of them did it for attention/publicity stunt.

    • Given the history of terrorism in spain and the nature of the conference (free speech related) and the france issues, they probably used mirrors at an entry point of the conference and did a once over in all cars parking in the event lot on entry. They likely did this looking for cars rigged to explode and found this tracking device and investigated it.

      Its a quick and easy way to show a security theatr is present.

      • by pjt33 ( 739471 )

        That's an interesting idea, but I'm afraid that it's wrong for the simple reason that the venue doesn't have its own parking spaces. People arriving by car would have to park in the road or in a near-by shopping centre.

  • details. it's always the details that makes one believe a lie.
    • Not sure where you're going with this... so anything with details is therefor a lie?
    • by gigaherz ( 2653757 ) on Friday March 06, 2015 @08:31PM (#49201767)
      The original news article (in Catalan) says she was stopped while trying to cross into France, where they took the car, and "routinely searched" it for an hour and a half before it was returned. Afterwards a month later she was approached by the same police body in Valencia, right after she parked outside the conference. That's when she decided it was too much to be just coincidence, and searched the car.
      • by TWX ( 665546 )
        In an hour and a half they could have pulled the rear bumper cover, tapped into the license plate lamp, and installed the device behind the thin rear bumper cover where it would never have been noticed even when the car is sent for scrap. It makes me wonder if the installation of the device at the checkpoint and the search at the checkpoint were conducted by different parties, or if a party to the search was also acting as an agent for someone else and planted this as the search wound-down without the know
  • Stingray (Score:4, Informative)

    by YuppieScum ( 1096 ) on Friday March 06, 2015 @08:16PM (#49201675) Journal
    Not the submarine, but the cell-tower spoofer.

    This would be ideal to find out who it's calling, and changing what it's sending...
  • The end is nigh o planter's of magnetic tracking devices!
    • about glass fibre (TVR, some older Lotus), carbon fibre (McLaren, Pagani, some Ferrari and Porsche, etc) or timber (Morgan)...
      • by Cramer ( 69040 )

        Very few cars have a non-metal frame. What you're looking for is a car without accessible ferrous surfaces, or places to zip-tie things. (note: there's steel in a Morgan; it's not 100% wood.)

        Plus, these aren't the type of people I would expect to be rolling around in expensive, exotic "super cars".

    • by caseih ( 160668 )

      There's currently only one production vehicle with an all-aluminum body on the market today. But it has a conventional steel rail frame. Saturn used to make body panels out of plastic as well, but they never looked as good. Steel body panels are light and cost effective and aren't going away anytime soon.

      • This might be true in America, but many European production vehicles make extensive use of aluminium in their construction - check out the latest Land Rover and Range Rover models, likewise BMW and Mercedes...
      • by Jaime2 ( 824950 )
        Almost every Jaguar has an aluminum body, and they have no frame.
  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Friday March 06, 2015 @08:24PM (#49201729)

    There are ways to poke around inside one of these if you can inject commands and read from the GPRS modem port. Many chipsets implement at extended AT [] command set. There are registers with IP addresses of the target server for the data sent.

  • U-bloc GPS Chip (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 06, 2015 @08:28PM (#49201751)

    I don't know who owns it but the module with 2209 written on it is a U-blox GPS receiver. I recognise the circuit around it from their reference designs.

  • Slap the GPS tracker on another vehicle as unrelated to yours as possible, say a Finnish tour bus parked in the area. In the following weeks, the security forces would trace the vehicle to an obscure suburb of Helsinki, then to Cappadocia or Palermo, at which point they would spring their SWAT trap on...nothing.

  • by retech ( 1228598 ) on Friday March 06, 2015 @08:48PM (#49201867)
    To me, this stinks of home made stunt to get attention. The guy's reddit name, the shit build quality, the lack of any detail as to how it was found... etc etc etc. It's a millennial cry for attention, for whatever reason.
    • by hawguy ( 1600213 )

      To me, this stinks of home made stunt to get attention. The guy's reddit name, the shit build quality, the lack of any detail as to how it was found... etc etc etc. It's a millennial cry for attention, for whatever reason.

      I have to agree on the build quality -- that soldering is not very professional looking, unless some unskilled tech at the police department (or where ever) builds their own devices, that screams out "home made". The white/brown wires are barely soldered to the pad on the back side of the board.

      • by TWX ( 665546 )
        It's the black duct tape that gets me. I'm not the most skilled solderer myself, but when I make something that needs to remain durable I usually coat it in hot glue and shrink some heatshrink tubing around it so that it's protected and looks good. My most recent project like this was to physically trim down the PCB of a USB to RS-232 adapter, remove the DB9 from it, and solder the ends of a Cisco console cable in its place, reducing the size of the device that I need to use to console in to a switch. I
    • by blueg3 ( 192743 )

      It doesn't seem like they say who the activist is?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 06, 2015 @10:10PM (#49202205)

      > The guy's reddit name,

      What exactly about the name "ioerror" [] screams attention whore to you?

      > the shit build quality,

      So, your contention is that someone went to the effort to layout and fab up at least a two-layer circuit board with surface mount components specifically to hoax the internet?

      > It's a millennial cry for attention, for whatever reason.

      Looks like you have a stick up your ass about millenials. []
      Why don't you just shout "get off my internet" at them like a proper grumpy old man?

      • by retech ( 1228598 )
        That user just did an AMA about net security and the like. Previous posts show they are promoting an agenda warning about a surveillance state. While I don't fault that agenda, I do think they feel like they were not getting enough attention.

        I do not think, nor did I say, they "fabbed" this unit for this specific purpose. I do think it was probable a hobbiest creation that was just handy when the idea struck. The complete lack of any specifics about how it was found seems like a think story thought up on
  • by Anonymous Coward

    They totally missed the opportunity to find out who planted it. Leave it untouched on the car for a day or two to make sure they have a good fix on the location, disable, film and photograph the repair guy(s) who show up to fix it. That's when you post what you did along with the images of the people.

    • by TWX ( 665546 )
      As cheaply as it's made, my guess is that they'd just plant a new one, and probably make at least a half-hearted effort to check if they're being watched before approaching.
  • Attach it to the nearest bus/taxi/cop car.
  • In Soviet Russia (Score:4, Informative)

    by Thor Ablestar ( 321949 ) on Friday March 06, 2015 @09:46PM (#49202111)

    The device looks very similar to the numerous GSM/GPS trackers that are sold in Russia in every security equipment store. When the police is busy with Bolotnaya square activists there is no other method to find your stolen car.

  • May be components intended for a different use. Definitely not fit for longer-term usage or bad weather.

    The PCB is rather low-density. This may be a custom-manufactured board (which may mean no way to track it) with the components placed and soldered by hand (iron and hot air). There may be some way of tracking the GSM module (the one marked 2209) as that is way outside of non-specialized shops to design and not a lot of manufacturers make them. May need to be opened for identification. The rest looks like

  • Put it in a phone and see who it was reporting to.
  • Yep, that's right: smash it to little pieces, videoing the entire action .. and then post it to Youtube.

    Wait and see which government agency comes whining around trying to arrest you for destruction of government property.

    Remember this? []

    Of course now _I_ am open to charges of conspiracy to destroy government property, interfering with police actions, and who knows what else?

    [fingers monitors]

  • Additional information from The Guardian: []

    This was the the female political activist who is suing the Metropolitan Police for planting an undercover officer in environmental/animal activist groups who formed a sexual relationship with her for two years under a false identity "Mark Kennedy". See previous stories about him here: []

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