Report shows evidence of phone spying tech being used in London

Can cops and hackers track your phone
blurAZ/Shutterstock
In a report published by Sky News, evidence is shown that fake cell towers are being used in London, which have the ability to eavesdrop on calls and collect additional communications data. Named IMSI catchers, or by the brand name Stingray, the tower — which can actually be the size of a briefcase, and equally as portable — fools phones into connecting with them, and are apparently used by the police and governments to monitor crime.

However, according to privacy experts, it’s very difficult to target specific groups or individuals using an IMSI catcher — meaning anyone with an active phone could be caught out by the tower, and inadvertently have their communications monitored. The report represents the first time evidence has been shown of an IMSI catcher’s use in the UK.

To gather evidence, Sky News used a special smartphone called the CryptoPhone, a modified Samsung Galaxy S3 that provides an array of security and protection features. Using the phone for three weeks, Sky News found the device connected to Stingrays more than 20 times. It has made the logs available for the public to see, and for other experts to analyze. Cryptophone’s CEO backed up the claims, saying, “The abnormal events encountered can clearly be categorized as strong indicators for the presence of IMSI catchers in multiple locations.”

Law enforcement’s keeping quiet

The story comes at a time when concern over privacy, security, and government-backed eavesdropping is at a high point. However, despite Sky News findings, the UK’s police commissioner had little to say on the subject when asked for comment. He said the only people who would benefit from knowing details are the criminals, and he “saw no reason in giving away that sort of thing.”

Also avoiding the subject was director-general of the National Crime Agency in the UK, who said opening up the debate would “defeat the purpose of having the tactics in the first place,” and added that, “some of what we need to do is intrusive, it is uncomfortable.” Ultimately, Sky News didn’t receive a clear confirmation or denial regarding the use of IMSI catchers in the UK.

Documented use in the U.S.

IMSI catchers aren’t new technology, and have been around for several years. Their use is already relatively well documented in the U.S., and one of the devices was at the center of a major trial in 2011, when it was allegedly used to apprehend Daniel Rigmaiden, AKA the Hacker. At the time, the FBI also stated that revealing too much about the device could “compromise future use,” and mean it could be, “defeated or avoided or detected.”

While Sky News went to the trouble of obtaining a $3,500 CryptoPhone for its investigation, if you’re at all concerned about ISMI catchers — and making law enforcement’s concerns about detection of such devices rather moot — SnoopSnitch says it’s clever enough to warn you about the presence of fake base stations, and it’s available as an app for your Android phone, for free, through Google Play right now.

Emerging Tech

Forget police helicopters, California cops are using drones to spot suspects

Police drones deployed by California’s Chula Vista Police Department helped lead to the arrest of 20 suspects over a three-month study. It's a glimpse of the future of drones in law enforcement.
Emerging Tech

Of all the vape pens in the world, these 5 are the best

Vaping concentrates has become significantly more popular, especially among those that use cannabis for medicinal purposes. But don’t use just any vape pen: we found these five devices to be our favorites in 2018.
Smart Home

Language barrier? Psh. Here's how to make your Google Home an ace translator

You can now use interpreter mode on your Google Home devices. This means, you can use your Google Home device to translate conversations in real-time. Here's how to use interpreter mode.
Gaming

Here's how you can play your favorite PC games with a Nintendo Switch controller

Nintendo's Switch controllers, including the Joy-Cons and the aptly titled Pro Controller, use Bluetooth, which makes them compatible with your PC. Here's how to start using them for PC gaming.
Mobile

Flip from portrait to landscape as we reveal how to rotate a video on iPhone

If you've accidentally shot a video in portrait orientation and you want to flip to landscape, then this is the guide for you. We'll explain how to use iMovie to rotate a video on your iPhone or iPad for free and suggest alternative apps.
Mobile

The 2019 iPhone could put a charge into your other Apple gadgets

While it's not been long since the last iPhones launched, rumors for the next iPhone are already surfacing. Apple's 2019 flagship could include a variety of upgrades ranging from a new design to enhanced features.
Mobile

5G is the swift kick VR and AR gaming needs to come to fruition

There's a lot of hype surrounding augmented reality and virtual reality, but is it really the next big thing? We take a look at where the new mediums stand, as well as how 5G is poised to help them break into the mainstream.
Mobile

Own an unlocked Galaxy S9? The U.S. Android Pie update has landed

Android 9.0 Pie has been released. But is your phone getting Android 9.0 Pie, and if so, when? We've done the hard work and asked every device manufacturer to see when their devices would be getting the update.
Deals

This discounted smartwatch is a cheap Apple Watch or Fitbit Versa alternative

The Amazfit Bip isn't an Apple Watch or Fitbit Versa, but at the discounted price of $67, it's a very affordable alternative packed with useful features. With built-in GPS and 30-day battery life, this cheap smartwatch is a great option to…
Gaming

Xbox's app lets you access your console while away from home. Here's how

Microsoft's Xbox allows you to access your profile information and launch media content directly from your mobile device. Check out our quick guide on how to connect your smartphone to an Xbox One.
Mobile

It looks like Google may get rid of the back button in Android Q

Android Pie recently rolled out, but it's already time to look ahead to Android Q, the next version of Google's mobile OS. We've seen a number of rumors and leaks come out about the operating system -- here's everything we know so far.
Deals

Amazon cuts prices on the Apple Watch Series 3 for Presidents’ Day

The Apple Watch Series 3 is seeing the same price cut we saw during the Amazon sale just last week. So if you're hoping to pick up an Apple Watch for less than $250, this $50 discount from Amazon can make that happen for you.
Deals

Here are 20 portable tech gadgets you’ll want to use every day

If you're looking for portable tech to keep you charged up while on the go (or for some great small gift ideas), we've rounded up 20 must-have gadgets. You'll find everything from a mini gaming controller to a folding Bluetooth keyboard.
Deals

Need a new tablet? Here are the best iPad deals for February 2019

In the wide world of tablets, Apple is still the king. If you're on team Apple and just can't live without iOS, we've curated an up-to-date list of all of the best iPad deals currently available for December 2018.