FCC Announces Task Force to Investigate Fake Towers


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By Jen Koester, an insider at Lease Advisors

You may recall the buzz about law enforcement using fake cell towers to catch criminals.  These towers enabled police and other law enforcement agencies to pinpoint wireless users’ locations, and in some cases, even track and copy data transmission. People were unhappy about their cell phones and other wireless devices being “tricked” into connecting to these towers. As a result of growing concern, the FCC recently announced the creation of a task force dedicated to investigate the use of fake cell towers. One well-known fake cell tower is the “StingRay”, created by Florida-based Harris Corporation.  This technology imitates part of the cellular infrastructure to get nearby cellular devices to connect to it.  StingRays differentiate in terms of what they can extract from your phone.  Some can intercept phone calls and text messages, while others can only track your location.

It is now feared that law enforcement agencies are not the only ones using these devices.  Florida Representative Alan Grayson worries that the U.S. cellular infrastructure is in danger, because criminals and spies may be hacking this technology and accessing StingRay data.  Grayson wrote to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler asking him to look into the possibility. Wheeler replied to Grayson, saying that the recently created special task force will “initiate immediate steps to combat the illicit and unauthorized use of IMSI catchers,” as these devices are commonly referred.

Aside from this new special task force, very few measures have been taken to protect the privacy of those networks being hacked. Police use of StingRays has been popular in California for the past six years, however little to no disclosure has been made with regard to the information taken from these devices. StingRays are currently becoming more popular in states outside of California, causing the public to fear how hard it will be to shut these devices down if deemed appropriate by the FCC.

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