A few weeks ago, the news that 17 cell phone towers of unknown origin shot around the Internet faster than the latest stolen celebrity nude photos. Since then, a variety of publications have launched their own investigations and they are finding a whole lot more towers, but not their owners.
Les Goldsmith, CEO of ESD America, the company behind the secure phones that first discovered the mystery towers, told VentureBeat he's found 18 towers in and around the Washington D.C. area. And who does Goldsmith think is behind it? “It’s highly unlikely that federal law enforcement would be using mobile interceptors near the Senate. My suspicion is that it is a foreign entity," he told VB.
Goldsmith said two kinds of interceptors have been identified: IMSI Catchers, which can steal subscriber info, and GSM Interceptors, which can listen into calls. Goldsmith added that a complete interceptor includes both capabilities.
Separately, The Blaze has also found intercept devices, which are not cell towers and can be as small as a briefcase, around the Russian embassy. "In several locations including on Pennsylvania Avenue in downtown D.C. someone is operating a full-blown intercept where whenever you walk past they actually break open your communications and look at what’s going on on the device," Aaron Turner, president of Integricell, a company that specializes in mobile security, told The Blaze.
Goldsmith, who also talked to The Blaze, said there are three tell-tale signs that phone calls are being intercepted: Your phone thinks it only has the option to talk to one cell tower; the deceptive one, the phone is forced to downgrade from 4G/3G to the simpler, unsecured 2G service; and standard network cyphering is disabled on the phone.
What's really disturbing about all of this is there does not seem to be any concern beyond the tech press. There do not seem to be any investigations or for that matter, anyone going to the devices they've detected to see what it is. Even scarier is how they got there in the first place. That someone could set up these interceptors and no one noticed does not give me a great sense of comfort. Goldsmith's comment that they are of foreign origin should scare the daylights out of Congress, even if they have all gone home to campaign for re-election.
Something has to be done, and the first thing should be taking these interceptors down, disassembling them and finding out where the information they capture is being sent. Why no one is doing that right now is beyond me.