Feeds

US Justice Department free to track mobile phone users

If you have nothing to hide...

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

The American Civil Liberties Union has revealed that the FBI no longer feels the need for judicial or operator oversight when deploying base station-faking technology to detect mobile phones.

This capability is nothing new, but previously it was assumed that a warrant was needed before the FBI started tracking phones and that the network operator would need to be informed. These are optimistic assumptions in this age of fear embodied in the USA's Patriot* Act, as shown in the documents obtained by the ACLU. Instead the FBI just gets a pen-trap order, granted under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and Bob's your uncle.

The technology, known as Triggerfish, pretends to be a base station so that mobile handsets happily connect to it and identify themselves. A Triggerfish deployment can wait for a specific handset to pass by, or just grab nearby identities for later analysis.

When the GSM security model was created there was no attempt to confirm the identity of the base station - it never occurred to the designers that fake base stations would exist so all the authentication is one-way. Worse still, while the IMSI (unique to the subscriber) is not supposed to be sent over the network, the standard allows a base station to claim to have "lost" the corresponding TMSI (temporary equivalent) and thus ask the handset to resend the IMSI in the clear.

Setting up fake base stations is pretty rare, but clearly the US authorities aren't alone in doing it, which is why the 3G GSM standard requires base stations to authenticate themselves too - making Triggerfish once again inoperable without network operator collusion, at least where 3G is being used by default. ®

*Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001, since you ask.

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

More from The Register

next story
Download alert: Nearly ALL top 100 Android, iOS paid apps hacked
Attack of the Clones? Yeah, but much, much scarier – report
Broadband sellers in the UK are UP TO no good, says Which?
Speedy network claims only apply to 10% of customers
Virgin Media struck dumb by NATIONWIDE packet loss balls-up
Turning it off and on again fixes glitch 12 HOURS LATER
BEST EVER broadband? Oh no you DIDN'T, Sky – ad watchdog
Rival BT moaned that claim was misleading
Fujitsu CTO: We'll be 3D-printing tech execs in 15 years
Fleshy techie disses network neutrality, helmet-less motorcyclists
Facebook, working on Facebook at Work, works on Facebook. At Work
You don't want your cat or drunk pics at the office
Soz, web devs: Google snatches its Wallet off the table
Killing off web service in 3 months... but app-happy bonkers are fine
prev story

Whitepapers

Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Getting ahead of the compliance curve
Learn about new services that make it easy to discover and manage certificates across the enterprise and how to get ahead of the compliance curve.
Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile
Data demand and the rise of virtualization is challenging IT teams to deliver storage performance, scalability and capacity that can keep up, while maximizing efficiency.