US Government Planes Spying on Smartphones Using Stingray and Dirtbox - BestCyberNews: Online News Presenter in the present world

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US Government Planes Spying on Smartphones Using Stingray and Dirtbox

The US government has access to sophisticated tools that allow them to track and collect data from smartphones and other devices without knowing users, they are connecting to a genuine phone network.

According to the Wall Street Journal indicating that the government has been using Cessna planes outfitted with special phone surveillance equipment to track suspects. But the surveillance system is designed to pick up the phone signals of anyone within range.

The range of the equipment is currently unknown, but it means that data on potentially tens of thousands of phones could be collected during a single flight.

The airplane-based system is a 2-foot-square box called the Dirtbox, after the Boeing subsidiary that manufactures it. It appears to be the same or similar to so-called IMSI catchers or stingrays that law enforcement, the military, and intelligence agencies have been using for more than a decade.

A dirtbox mimics the signals transmitted by mobile phone providers which handsets look to latch on to. When they do, they send their individual registration information and location.

They operate in the same way as Stingray, a more commonly known mobile phone surveillance ttool, Tools like Stingray and Dirtbox are known as IMSI catchers because they collect the unique identification data sent by each individual device to its network.

The U.S. Marshals Service program, which became fully functional around 2007, operates Cessna aircraft from at least five metropolitan-area airports, with a flying range covering most of the U.S. population, according to people familiar with the program.

A Justice Department official would neither confirm nor deny the existence of such a program. The official said discussion of such matters would allow criminal suspects or foreign powers to determine U.S. surveillance capabilities. Justice Department agencies comply with federal law, including by seeking court approval, the official said.

Christopher Soghoian, chief technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union, called it “a dragnet surveillance program. It’s inexcusable and it’s likely—to the extent judges are authorizing it—[that] they have no idea of the scale of it.”

Cellphones are programmed to connect automatically to the strongest cell tower signal. The device being used by the U.S. Marshals Service identifies itself as having the closest, strongest signal, even though it doesn’t, and forces all the phones that can detect its signal to send in their unique registration information.

Similar devices are used by U.S. military and intelligence officials operating in other countries, including in war zones, where they are sometimes used to locate terrorist suspects, according to people familiar with the work.

It is unclear how closely the Justice Department oversees the program. “What is done on U.S. soil is completely legal,” said one person familiar with the program. “Whether it should be done is a separate question.”

Referring to the more limited range of Stingray devices, Mr. Soghoian of the ACLU said: “Maybe it’s worth violating privacy of hundreds of people to catch a suspect, but is it worth thousands or tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of peoples’ privacy?”







Author Venkatesh Yalagandula Follow us Google + and Facebook and Twitter