Recognize IMSI Catchers that fake to be cell towers with a new technique

What can be worst other than somebody spying on you through your cellphone? But no need to worry as now a research team at the University of Washington has fabricated a new system, SeaGlass. This system basically assists in identifying the cellphone surveillance by modeling the cellular landscape of a city and determine doubtful anomalies.

Cell phones are susceptible to attacks from trickster cellular transmitters known as International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) catchers, also called as Stingrays or cell-site simulators, surveillance tools that can accurately trace mobile phones, send spam or spy on conversations, according to the Xinhua news agency. Cell-site simulators function by faking to be a real cell tower that a cellphone would typically connect with, and trapping the cellphone into sending back recognizing data regarding its location and the way it communicates.

The new system was used for a duration of 2 months with SeaGlass sensors deployed in ride-sharing vehicles in Milwaukee and Seattle, thus enabling the recognition of numerous anomalies consistent with configurations one may anticipate from Stingrays. Peter Ney, a Co-lead author, said, “So far, the usage of IMSI-catchers across the globe has been cloaked in mystery, and this absence of concrete data is an obstacle to the informed public conversation. Having supplementary, credible, and independent sources of data on cell-site simulators are important to comprehend how—and how reliably—they are being utilized.”

In order to recognize the IMSI catchers, SeaGlass utilizes sensors that are made from ordinary parts, which can be deployed in vehicles, the one that travels a lot and to several areas, for instance, ride-sharing vehicles. Signals emitted from the existing cell tower network are picked up by the sensor. These signals are quite stable. Over time, this information is combined by SeaGlass to generate a baseline map of standard behavior of a cell tower.

Algorithm and other techniques are developed by the team to identify and abnormalities in the cellular network that can reveal the existence of a simulator. These consist of an odd frequency or a strong signal at an odd spot that has never been recognized before, signal configurations that are dissimilar from what a hauler would generally transmit, and temporary towers that vanish after a short time.

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