Sea­Glass will warn you of cel­lu­lar eaves­drop­ping

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS - – Xin­hua

SE­CU­RITY re­searchers at the Uni­ver­sity of Wash­ing­ton (UW) have de­vel­oped a new sys­tem called Sea­Glass to de­tect anom­alies in the cel­lu­lar land­scape that can in­di­cate where and when cell phone sur­veil­lance de­vices are be­ing used.

The sys­tem was de­ployed dur­ing a two-month pe­riod with Sea­Glass sen­sors in­stalled in ride-shar­ing ve­hi­cles in Seat­tle and Mil­wau­kee, re­sult­ing in the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of dozens of anom­alies con­sis­tent with pat­terns one might ex­pect from cell-site sim­u­la­tors.

Cell phones are vul­ner­a­ble to at­tacks from rogue cel­lu­lar trans­mit­ters called In­ter­na­tional Mo­bile Sub­scriber Iden­tity (IMSI) catch­ers, also known as cell-site sim­u­la­tors or Stingrays, that are sur­veil­lance de­vices that can pre­cisely lo­cate mo­bile phones, eaves­drop on con­ver­sa­tions or send spam.

“Up un­til now the use of IMSI-catch­ers around the world has been shrouded in mys­tery,” colead author Peter Ney, a doc­toral stu­dent at the Allen School of Com­puter Sci­ence & En­gi­neer­ing at the UW, said.

Cell-site sim­u­la­tors work by pre­tend­ing to be a le­git­i­mate cell tower that a phone would nor­mally com­mu­ni­cate with, and trick­ing the phone into send­ing back iden­ti­fy­ing in­for­ma­tion about its lo­ca­tion and how it is com­mu­ni­cat­ing.

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