Intel Source – Personal Communications By Phone #2

5 minute read

Posted by: Allen Hoffmann, JD

February 3, 2015

Read the other parts once published in the IntelPhone Tag

Cellphones as a source of information for target movement.

Whether or not your phone has ‘smart’ features, it has to send and receive information via the nearest cell tower; whether its making a call or just ‘pinging’ the tower to confirm that it still has service, every single time you power up or move around within a cell network, that phone is communicating with the nearby towers so that it can keep you informed of incoming calls, messages, or changes toservice activities/levels. The things which a smart phone can do
boggle the mind (considering iPhones, for example, can be basically completely controlled remotely/software installed, etc, by the NSA, as per the Snowden leaks), but right now, the principle of just an old school phone which can make/receive calls and send/receive text messages work for the purposes of this article. Police can and do use this as a tool to track the movement of missing persons and others via a method called triangulation – checking to see which three towers are registering as nearby on a particular phone with a view to deducing from this information the contextually confined geographical area in which the phone is pinging off the tower. Have you ever carried a burner ‘work’ phone at the same time as your switched on ‘normal’ phone? Well done, you’ve certainly helped an intelligence analyst narrow down who uses that phone, considering the anonymity set gets smaller the longer you have both phones on and the more you move around between various towers.

Assume your phone is a bug until you stop it from being one.

In certain commonwealth countries, a curiosity detected by telephone engineers a long time ago whilst playing with things on the network meant that intelligence services would often use the microphone of a landline which was plugged in but hung up as a static listening device with a very slight modification to the receiver – known as ‘Special Facility’ in Britain, it was in use for many years (and indeed, remains in use in some very limited applications). The same deal applies with cellular services; the FBI has stated more than once that they have the capacity to activate the mic of a phone with the battery installed. No SIM card needed, the phone can be tagged by the IMEI and ‘told’ via telephonic means to activate the mic and start feeding back what its hearing. There’s a really simple method for stopping this – remove the damn battery when your ‘work related’ phone is not in use, and don’t say illegal shit in ‘mic shot’ of any phone.

Common misconceptions and myths about interception capability.

You can’t intercept a satellite phone.

Not strictly a myth, but more of a misconception – the tech exists, but not everyone has it. There’s a reason there remain a handful of countries on the planet which outright ban the ownership of phones which don’t make use of the cellular net, such as rural regions where there is no cell service, and instead bounce the signal direct to a satellite; its because those countries which ban satellite phones from civilian usage are, in most cases, not set up from a tech standpoint to intercept comms via this channel. Arresting and prosecuting foreigners in possession of these is a pretty routinething in India.

Faxes can’t be easily intercepted.

Bullshit. I hear this one from certain ethnic groups to this day for some reason. Do they even know what the fuck a modem is? In the dark days before non telephone specific protocols over which consumer-level users could transmit data, a fax modem would modulate and de modulate an image you wanted to transmit as a facsimile into 0s and 1s. All Ineed, if I am tapping the fax line, is a fax modem of my own to put it back together. End of story.

Clicking/echoes mean the cops are listening.

Its unlikely that’s the case if you’re on a landline, but you may want to take a look at who you pissed off. If an amateur is tapping aphysical landline, these are the sounds you will hear/would’ve heard ten or twenty years back, depending on where you live and how good your local boys in blue actually were in terms of tech and budget. As stated previously, modern interception (provided its properly ordered and authorised) is done at the exchange for landlines, and there’s no line to physically tap if you’re on a cell. It may be worth thinking about checking the physical lines if you’re on a landline and seeing if there are any unusual modifications. If that’s what you think is indicating your cell is tapped, on the other hand, then you should just consider changing carriers, its just that your service sucks.

Teaser for coming articles – Emails in the ‘drafts’ folder can’t be intercepted.

I have heard this one touted as fact on three continents by people in a range of sectors, and selectively repeated in media coverage of the proceedings of court cases as if to reinforce that it was a method which worked, even though it doesn’t. You and your buddy trading messages by saving unsent emails to the draft folder of an email address to which each of you have the password, like a digital update to a Cold War-era spook’s “dead drop”, does not prevent the information from being intercepted – and that’s been the case for over 10 years, regardless of what disinformation the Federal cops in at least one jurisdiction tried to tacitly spread via certain media outlets a couple of years back. This is an old terrorist trick which has been publicly known as available to Intel gatherers for a long time. The first mention of it in US cases is from United States of America v. Richard Colvin Reid. U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts, Criminal No. 02-10013-WGY, but there’s been more recent coverage of how useless this particular technique is thanks to the head of the CIA trying to use it to cover up banging his biographer. [sidebar – you’d think if anyone would know better, it would’ve been him, huh?]

Next time – how is it that your phone or the SIM card could completely fuck your life, even if YOU don’t get things wrong?

Updated: 2015-02-03