Sep 05, 2014 I Paul Seaburn

Are Fake Cell Towers Secretly Monitoring Your Calls?

You’re driving along chatting (not texting!) on your cell phone when suddenly its performance drops from 4G to 2G for no apparent reason. It’s time to get paranoid … there are fake cell towers around the country and someone may be tapping your cell phone. Who would do such a thing? (Do I really need to ask?)

Les Goldsmith, the CEO of ESD America, a defense and law enforcement technology provider based in Las Vegas, sounded the alarm in an article in Popular Science. Using his company’s ESD's CryptoPhone 500, a modified Samsung Galaxy SIII, he and his customers found 17 different fake cell phone towers in the U.S. in the month of July.

esdmap 570x319
Fake cell phone towers found by ESD.

“Fake cell phone tower” is actually a misnomer for what Goldsmith calls an “interceptor.” What looks like a real cell tower to your phone is actually a radio-equipped computer with some sinister software. Android and iOS phones have a second operating system running in the phone’s baseband processor chip that the interceptor hacks into. Once connected, the phone is open to everything from call and text monitoring to downloading spyware.

Who would be attacking your phone like this? Although the nude celebrity photo hacker has been getting all the publicity this week, Goldsmith points to more worrisome sources.

What we find suspicious is that a lot of these interceptors are right on top of U.S. military bases.  So we begin to wonder – are some of them U.S. government interceptors?  Or are some of them Chinese interceptors? Whose interceptor is it?  Who are they, that's listening to calls around military bases?  Is it just the U.S. military, or are they foreign governments doing it?  The point is: we don't really know whose they are.

Goldsmith says that the interceptor devices cost less than $100,000 and can do things like intercept both voice and text, manipulate voices, send text on behalf of the user, track the user and much, much more. A few police departments use something called "Stingray" devices that allow a less sophisticated form of surveillance.

Are you worried (or angry) yet? The CryptoPhone 500 sells for $3,500. You can also just buy a disposable “burner” phone to use a few times and then throw away.

This is only going to get worse. Any other ideas?

Paul Seaburn

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.

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