• US DOJ Accused of Spying on Mobile Phone Owners by Using Fake Cell Towers on Planes



    As outlined by The Wall Street Journal, the US Department of Justice has reportedly deployed specialized equipment to gather mobile phone data including unique device identifiers and other sensitive data, all from spoofed cell phone towers dubbed “dirtboxes” installed in planes. The project was aimed to identify criminals through their devices but the wide net also snares cellphones used by the general public.

    The dirtboxes are reportedly operated by the US Marshals Services Technical Operations Group, manufactured by Digital Receiver Technology (which is a subsidiary of Boeing) and installed on fixed-wing crafts like those built by Cessna. The devices are said to be two-foot squares which identify themselves as legitimate cell towers with strong signals, tricking mobile phones into reporting IMSI information. Furthermore, privacy safeguards are built in as the dirtboxes parse out devices linked to criminals and “lets go” of phones that aren’t suspect. According to the sources, the devices still gather all of the data before releasing it.

    The system has been revealed to gather data and the general locations of tens of thousands of phones in a single flight. Along with the data capturing features, the dirtboxes can also interrupt calls while newer versions are capable of jamming signals and scraping rich data like texts and photos as well. It should be noted that since the dirtboxes are taking advantage of basic structures shared by all cellular networks, there isn’t any level of encryption that is able to withstand the noninvasive attack.

    What’s a bit more fishy is that the Department of Justice wouldn’t confirm or deny the program’s existence but did say that is agencies are in compliance with federal laws. What currently remains unclear is how often these planes are sent out.

    How do you feel about the whole issue? Do you think it’s ok for the government to do this or do you feel a little less secure knowing that programs such as these exist?

    Source: The Wall Street Journal
    This article was originally published in forum thread: US DOJ Accused of Spying on Mobile Phone Owners by Using Fake Cell Towers on Planes started by Akshay Masand View original post
    Comments 13 Comments
    1. blagger69's Avatar
      blagger69 -
      Glad to be in UK!!
    1. cookbenj's Avatar
      cookbenj -
      well i don't think they'd be interested in my information on my phone.. but thats pretty incredible they can do that, i think its a great thing to use if they're looking for criminals, but i don't feel less secure really.. I'm not a criminal
    1. sheltons.iphone's Avatar
      sheltons.iphone -
      Quote Originally Posted by blagger69 View Post
      Glad to be in UK!!
      Where you have even less freedoms?
    1. blagger69's Avatar
      blagger69 -
      Really? What freedoms do you refer to?
    1. psxcancer's Avatar
      psxcancer -
      Well, I guess if your a criminal lucky enough to have read this article...... Ruuuuuuunn if you see that plane flying all suspicious. lol
    1. SpiderManAPV's Avatar
      SpiderManAPV -
      How can "no level of encryption" protect against this? If I have AES on device encryption, they're gonna get the same thing the service providers get, encrypted mumbo jumbo.
    1. milder's Avatar
      milder -
      Maybe this makes me a fool, but I'm happy to allow this. We DON'T live in a Big Brother society and I don't mind them potentially stopping a crime before it starts. YES, I know the whole slippery slope thing. I get it. But still, I'm willing to offer up some freedom for security. AND AGAIN, I know that's the road to Nazi Germany. I just have more hopeful faith in the USofA than that.
    1. ChicagoV's Avatar
      ChicagoV -
      This doesn't bother me one bit...
    1. Dranon's Avatar
      Dranon -
      Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.

      Quote Originally Posted by ChicagoV View Post
      This doesn't bother me one bit...
      I was only a staff sergeant when I was in BUT It should bother you master sergeant. We protect and fought for our country's freedoms I am unwilling to give them up...
    1. redline11786's Avatar
      redline11786 -
      Nothing the U.S. Has implemented that breaches the security of the general population cellular devices has saved society from a criminal. Only accusations can be made. This is data collection. In case you haven't had experience with a lawyer, his job is to take the data presented to him and build a case in favor of the defendant/plaintiff. Whether it's true or false doesn't matter as long as it gets past a jury. The problem here is that you can't convict a criminal using illegal means of surveillance or else the criminal can't be charged. This is not how you secure a population this is how you spy on them. And if someone has a clean criminal history, it'll be a lot easier to dirty it up with small bits of info in a good lawyers hands.
    1. ChicagoV's Avatar
      ChicagoV -
      Quote Originally Posted by Dranon View Post
      Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.


      I was only a staff sergeant when I was in BUT It should bother you master sergeant. We protect and fought for our country's freedoms I am unwilling to give them up...
      Indeed we do... but let's be honest: most of the modern complaints people have are over tinfoil "what if" scenarios with near-0% probability, or are there just for the sake of anti-authoritarianism. Which is fine... good for them. I fight for us all to have the freedoms to voice those concerns.

      Being in the military, and growing up in a home of law enforcement, I can say that times are changing. The good ol' detective work and "hunches" of the movies and yesteryear don't cut it most times - particularly with today's advanced criminals ALSO benefitting from and manipulating the very same freedoms we fought/fight for.

      So no, I don't have a problem with THIS particular example. And of course, the caveat is that this information is being used as intended. Just like I have zero qualms about citizens exercising their rights to monitor and hold their government accountable.

      Now if the rules are being broken or abused, or law changes (actual law, not feelings), then that's another story.
    1. hopethemodworx's Avatar
      hopethemodworx -
      Quote Originally Posted by sheltons.iphone View Post
      Where you have even less freedoms?
      All of our freedoms are slowly but surely being taken away.
    1. LeslieBee's Avatar
      LeslieBee -
      Quote Originally Posted by Dranon View Post
      Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.


      I was only a staff sergeant when I was in BUT It should bother you master sergeant. We protect and fought for our country's freedoms I am unwilling to give them up...
      Amen to that.

      Quote Originally Posted by hopethemodworx View Post
      All of our freedoms are slowly but surely being taken away.
      Yes. But fear not, this is America, the land of the good guys. We don't attack others without being attacked first. We don't create blacklists because of peoples believes. We don't spy and collect information on millions of innocent citizens. No, we don't do those things. We are the good guys.
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