Feeds

Mobile networks: the state's new bloodhounds?

Dial L for location

Eight steps to building an HP BladeSystem

So, you're a master criminal, or perhaps a cheating spouse, but either way you've covered your tracks and have a high court judge ready to confirm your alibi - you were eating dinner in a club when the deed occurred. Tickets paid in cash, and a hoodie to hide from the CCTV, your story is safe - except your mobile phone network knows exactly where you were, and when. But they're not going to tell anyone, are they?

Except they might. Network operators are bound by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), which requires them to store not only the details of every call you make and receive, but also where you were at the time. They keep this information for 12 months and make it available to the authorities on demand.

Of course, unless your spouse is very well placed they're unlikely to be able to call upon the RIPA to help, but if they suspect you in advance, your location might not be as secret as you think.

What does the network know?

When switched on, your mobile phone is logged onto the nearest cell site, which is recorded on servers at the network operator's data centre. The cell might not be the nearest physically, though in general it will be. What's important is the strength of signal from the handset's perspective.

In town the cell might cover an area as small as 100 yards across, but in the countryside they can easily cover ten miles. The deciding factor is generally the capacity of the cell, rather than range of the radio - so if you want to stay hidden keep away from places where people use their mobiles a lot, so cells will be dispersed.

In addition to the cell your phone is logged onto, the network operator can record your rough distance and the direction from it.

If you have signed up, or been signed up, to any kind of commercial tracking service, then external systems can connect to the network operator's computers and get that information.

According to the industry code of practice you should be getting random SMS messages reminding you that you could be tracked at any time, but those aren't always as frequent as they're supposed to be.

The networks make great play of the difference between where you are and where you were. They are perfectly happy to tell commercial services where you are, on demand, but they're not going to disclose your previous whereabouts without a RIPA request and accompanying purchase order.

To be sure your network isn't sharing your location data, change your privacy settings, which should protect you from the majority of commercial tracking solutions.

Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable

More from The Register

next story
Auntie remains MYSTIFIED by that weekend BBC iPlayer and website outage
Still doing 'forensics' on the caching layer – Beeb digi wonk
Apple orders huge MOUNTAIN of 80 MILLION 'Air' iPhone 6s
Bigger, harder trouser bulges foretold for fanbois
Bring back error correction, say Danish 'net boffins
We don't need no steenkin' TCP/IP retransmission and the congestion it causes
GoTenna: How does this 'magic' work?
An ideal product if you believe the Earth is flat
Samsung Z Tizen OS mobe is post-phoned – this time for good?
Russian launch for Sammy's non-droid knocked back
Telstra to KILL 2G network by end of 2016
GSM now stands for Grave-Seeking-Mobile network
Seeking LTE expert to insert small cells into BT customers' places
Is this the first step to a FON-a-like 4G network?
Yorkshire cops fail to grasp principle behind BT Fon Wi-Fi network
'Prevent people that are passing by to hook up to your network', pleads plod
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.