Ownership, Use of Fake Cellphone Towers Around DC Unknown

Wednesday, 24 Sep 2014 11:18 AM

By John Blosser

The imposters look like any other cellphone transmission towers — skeletal shiny steel rearing up into the sky, topped with an array of baffling high-tech gadgetry, erected by service providers like Verizon or AT&T, to give cellphone users access to calls and Internet virtually anywhere.

But these cellphone towers are disturbingly different. According to tech experts, they are not owned, nor operated, by cellphone service providers. In fact, no one is admitting who owns them, and why they are clustered around some of Washington’s most secret installations, but they are capable of hijacking your telephone signal, pinpointing your location, eavesdropping on your phone calls and emails and even accessing your phone when it has been switched off.

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So far, tech company ESD America has discovered 18 of the phony towers near the White House, Dulles International Airport, foreign embassies and federal contractors, Les Goldsmith, chief executive of ESD, whose company manufactures a very high tech, $3,500 cellphone designed to alert cellphone users to signal hijacking attempts, told The Washington Post.

“I think there’s even more here,” Goldsmith told the Post. “That was just us driving around for a day and a half,” using their phone, the GSMK CryptoPhone, to detect when one of the devices, called an IMSI Catcher, was attempting to hijack the phone’s signal.

Since then, Goldsmith has located a total of 45 towers around the U.S., according to Business Insider, and, he said, said, “My suspicion is that it is a foreign entity.”

But just who is building and using the phony towers, whether it’s the U.S. government, foreign government spies, organized crime looking to hijack credit card accounts or businesses seeking marketing data, remains unknown.

In response to an August letter from Rep. Alan M. Grayson, D-Fl., to Tom Wheeler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, the FCC plans to launch a study on the fake towers and other signal hijacking gear, the Post reports.

Noting that very basic IMSI Catchers can be obtained for as little as $1,800, Grayson wrote, “Americans have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their communications and in information about where they go and with whom they communicate. It is extremely troubling to learn that cellular communications are so poorly secured and that it is so easy to intercept calls and track people’s phones.”

“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?” Goldsmith told Popular Science, which broke the story of the fake towers.

“Whose interceptor is it? Who are they that are 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.”

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