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Here's How Tech Used by Law Enforcement to Eavesdrop Could Be Manipulated by Criminals


"Why use an IMSI catcher if you aren’t hunting for bad guys?"

Earlier this month, TheBlaze reported about a homemade WASP drone that was demonstrated at a tech conference. The drone included a bit of technology that allowed it to hack into phone calls and texts.

Now, a blog post on Slate by Ryan Gallagher is detailing even more how IMSI catchers, which are already used by many in law enforcement, can in turn be used by criminals.

Gallagher writes:

Czech broadcaster Radio Prague revealed that the use of IMSI catchers is on the rise in the country—but not by the authorities. A senior police chief, Tomas Almer, told the station that police had been detecting unauthorized IMSI catchers (called agátas in Czech) being used across the country, though had not been able to catch any of the perpetrators. Why use an IMSI catcher if you aren’t hunting for bad guys? Former Czech intelligence agency chief Andor Sandor said that businesses could be using them to spy on one another. And, as Radio Prague suggested, it’s possible that criminal gangs could be using them for extortion.

To elaborate, the broadcast reported more concerns over how the technology being used for nefarious activities is becoming more mainstream in the first place:

Former head of the Czech Military Intelligence Agency and a security analyst Andor Šándor underscored the danger of the widespread sale of Agátas:

"It’s been a known fact for a few years now that some companies do sell these devices. But if their use will not be in any way regulated, and access to these devices will not be in any way controlled, then a regular citizen can do absolutely nothing. The only way people can safeguard themselves is if they reveal only the necessary information during their mobile communication. But, obviously that goes against normal behavior of free persons."

At this point it is also becoming harder to trace who produces Agátas. Although an IMSI catcher was originally patented by a German company Rohde and Schwarz, it has been hard to maintain exclusivity because of its generic nature. This year, Court of Appeal of England and Wales even invalidated the patent for reasons of obviousness.

These devices are similar to those used by law enforcement in the United States to trick a cellphone into thinking they are a legitimate tower. These types of catchers, like the Stingray, were ruled constitutional even without a warrant by the Supreme Court of the United States last year.

The report by TheBlaze about the DIY WASP drone with this technology though shows that even among the positive uses for this types of catchers "it seems only a matter of time before criminals and terrorists turn to this technology to steal data, jam communications, or conduct reconnaissance for attacks" in the United States as well.

Gallagher reports privacy advocates are raising awareness of the eavesdropping capability, like a group in London creating a "IMSI catcher catcher," which finds those using an IMSI catcher whether it be police or criminals. For those concerned about criminal snooping now, Gallagher notes there is encrypting software available should you not want to go to the extreme of stopping use of your phone all together.

Check out the full post on Slate for more detail here.

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