[fc-discuss] Financial Cryptography Update: Threatwatch - tracking you, tracking me, tracking us all
Sun, 5 Feb 2006 16:28:01 +0000 (GMT)
Financial Cryptography Update: Threatwatch - tracking you, tracking me, tracking us all
February 05, 2006
We all know that cell-phones have been trackable to the tower point
quite trivially, and even beyond that if the operator deigns to do some
triangulation. That's how they - allegedly - tracked the London bomber
But I admit to being surprised that the telco operators would *sell*
this information. I suppose it is obvious, in hindsight, but what
I unplugged her phone and took it upstairs to register it on a website
I had been told about. It looks as if the service is mainly for
tracking stock and staff movements: the Guardian, rather sensibly,
doesn't want me to tell you any more than that. I ticked the website's
terms and conditions without reading them, put in my debit card
details, and bought 25 GSM Credits for £5 plusvat.
Almost immediately, my girlfriend's phone vibrated with a new text
message. "Ben Goldacre has requested to add you to their Buddy List! To
accept, simply reply to this message with 'LOCATE'". I sent the
requested reply. The phone vibrated again. A second text arrived:
"WARNING: [this service] allows other people to know where you are. For
your own safety make sure that you know who is locating you." I deleted
both these text messages.
On the website, I see the familiar number in my list of "GSM devices"
and I click "locate". A map appears of the area in which we live, with
a person-shaped blob in the middle, roughly 100 yards from our home.
The phone doesn't go off at all. There is no trace of what I'm doing on
her phone. I can't quite believe my eyes: I knew that the police could
do this, and telecommunications companies, but not any old random
person with five minutes access to someone else's phone. I can't find
anything in her mobile that could possibly let her know that I'm
checking her location. As devious systems go, it's foolproof. I set up
the website to track her at regular intervals, take a snapshot of her
whereabouts automatically, every half hour, and plot her path on the
map, so that I can view it at my leisure. It felt, I have to say,
Well, that basically means we all now have the tracking devices that we
all were scared off. Never mind the bluster about warning messages,
somehow we all slipped into the tracking society without even knowing
The tracking threat meter is now pegged hard ON. The response is
likely to be IP telephony with bluetooth/802.11 bridging into the open
network. Not because of the eavesdropping - that old silly worry about
encryption - but because of the location searching. Eavesdropping is
not an economic threat to most people most of the time, but tracking
is. Tracking location can be used years afterwards, whereas nobody on
the planet except the NSA has time to listen to 1000's of hours of chit
chat with the spouse.
Meanwhile something that didn't surprise me was the Greek Prime
Athens - Mobile phones belonging to top Greek military and government
officials — including the Prime Minister — and the U.S. embassy were
tapped for nearly a year beginning in the weeks before the 2004 Olympic
games, the government said Thursday.
Mr. Roussopoulos said the surveillance was carried out through spy
software installed in the central system of Vodafone, the mobile
telephony provider that served the targets.
Calls were then diverted to mobile phones using pay-as-you-go services,
which are difficult to trace.
So, someone connected into the switches and installed some diverts or
conference shares. Cunningly, they diverted the conference sharing to
pre-paid mobiles which were probably hacked to record.
Now, my experience in telcos doesn't go very far, having only worked
twice for them, and then only peripherally to switches. But here's
what I recall, FWIW (please, anyone with more uptodate info, chime in!)
Switches have very basic security. They are all digital, these days.
They are all centrally manageable. And the source code is secret.
e.g., it's almost as bad as windows - you google around, download a few
docs and programs, hack in and you're in. The only reason this is
unknown is because switches just aren't that interesting. (Waddya
gonna do - divert your mother's few phone calls? Download Paris
Hilton's billing records? Roight... Phone phreaking disappeared the
minute Internet came along because the net was more fun.)
Better, or worse, the security departments work hand in glove with the
national authorities. The switches are after all built by very big
companies, almost always "national champions." They are generally sold
to other very big companies, who all used to be national champions back
in the good old days, but these days are more likely to be wannabe
champions with the same mindset.
So I would conclude that this is in the "of course" basket. Of course
you - anyone - can do this, the challenge would be to show that you
couldn't. More apropos would be to ask if this sort of capability is
built into Cisco routers. Just in the "China specials" or all of them?
Cisco also released a statement recently aimed at dispelling the
persistent rumor that it sold China custom hardware designed to make
censorship simple. The company, it says
, "has not designed or marketed products for any government to censor
Internet content." Reporters without Borders disagrees
<http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=16110> - and they were the
ones who had the Congressional ear today.
Or, to ask what the Greek counter-intelligence people are up to - what
were they doing all these years letting their assets using unprotected
mobile phones using unprotected and wide-open commercial telco
networks? How dumb is that?
The list of about 100 people whose telephones were tapped included the
ministers of foreign affairs, defence, public order and justice. Most
of Greece's top military and police officers were also targeted, as
were foreign ministry officials, a US embassy number and the prime
minister's wife, Natasha.
My advise - if Natasha divorces the PM, she should name the chief of
counter-intelligence agencies in the filing.
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