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Now the government is hacking your phone from the sky

Fake phone towers attached to planes are being used to gather data from thousands of phones

Technology trends and news by Steven Loeb
November 14, 2014
Short URL: http://vator.tv/n/3a68

recent report from Pew found that pretty much nobody feels secure online anymore.  And that is not surprising at all given what we've learned over the last year and a half.

What really interested me was how many people don't even feel secure on using their phones. Nearly half, 46%, of those surveyed said that feel “not very” or “not at all secure” calling on their cell phone when they want to share private information.

That's a startling number. But you know what? Sadly, they're almost certainly right to feel that way. And now, I believe, that number is about to jump quite a bit higher after a new report out from the Wall Street Journal on Thursday found that the government is using devices, which are placed on planes and "mimic cell phone towers," in order to gather data on Americans through their phones.

Known as "dirtboxes," the devices are designed to trick cell phones, which are programmed to connect automatically to the strongest cell tower signal, to  give up unique registration information. Even if the fake tower is not the strongest signal, it is still able to force any phone that detect its signal to send in their information as well.

By using this technology, data can be gleamed from tens of thousands of cell phones in a single flight. That includes text messages and pictures. 

The program, which is run by the U.S. Marshals Service, has been around since 2007. The aircraft are being operated out of at least five metropolitan-area airports, and are able to cover most of the U.S. population.

Ostensibly, this technology is supposed to be used to locate the phones of people who are under criminal investigation, such as fugitives or drug dealers. As it always seems to happen, though, it also just happens to also collect information on cell phones belonging to people who aren’t criminal suspects. 

If it finds a phone that doesn't belong to a criminal, then it apparently simply lets it go. No harm, no foul, right? You were just spied on by accident. What's the big deal? You totally trust the government to not have collected any data, nor stored it, right? Of course not! Why would you think otherwise?

Even some within the Marshals Service don't think that this program is exactly legal, and there also questions as to whether enough is being done to make sure that there are a minimal number of intrusions on innocent people, and, most importantly, "if there are effective procedures in place to safeguard the handling of that data."

This is just the latest example of the government using technology to spy on citizens.

First there was PRISM, in which it was revealed that government had been tapping into the servers of numerous Internet companies, including Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple, in order gather data on American citizens. 

It was subsequently revealed that there was also program that systematically intercepted American-made servers, routers, and other computer network devices, and embedded them with surveillance tools. The agency then repackages them—complete with factory seal and all—and sends them on their way to their international recipients, thereby gaining access to entire networks and their users.

Faith in government and institutions is at an all-time low and stories like these are just going to make a bad situation worse. The one thing that they don't seem to be doing, though: getting the government to actually stop spying on people!

(Image source: banklawyersblog.com)