Spying on phone using satelite radio


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The deepest privacy threat from mobile phones—yet one that is often completely invisible—is the way that they announce your whereabouts all day and all night long through the signals they broadcast. There are at least four ways that an individual phone's location can be tracked by others.

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In all modern mobile networks, the operator can calculate where a particular subscriber's phone is located whenever the phone is powered on and registered with the network. The ability to do this results from the way the mobile network is built, and is commonly called triangulation. One way the operator can do this is to observe the signal strength that different towers observe from a particular subscriber's mobile phone, and then calculate where that phone must be located in order to account for these observations.

The accuracy with which the operator can figure out a subscriber's location varies depending on many factors, including the technology the operator uses and how many cell towers they have in an area. Very often, it is accurate to about the level of a city block, but in some systems it can be more accurate. There is no way to hide from this kind of tracking as long as your mobile phone is powered on and transmitting signals to an operator's network.

Cartapping: How Feds Have Spied On Connected Cars For 15 Years

Although normally only the mobile operator itself can perform this kind of tracking, a government could force the operator to turn over location data about a user in real-time or as a matter of historical record. In , a German privacy advocate named Malte Spitz used privacy laws to get his mobile operator to turn over the records that it had about his records; he chose to publish them as an educational resource so that other people could understand how mobile operators can monitor users this way. You can visit here to see what the operator knew about him.

The possibility of government access to this sort of data is not theoretical: it is already being widely used by law enforcement agencies in countries like the United States. Another related kind of government request is called a tower dump; in this case, a government asks a mobile operator for a list of all of the mobile devices that were present in a certain area at a certain time.

This could be used to investigate a crime, or to find out who was present at a particular protest. Reportedly, the Ukrainian government used a tower dump for this purpose in , to make a list of all of the people whose mobile phones were present at an anti-government protest. Carriers also exchange data with one another about the location from which a device is currently connecting. This data is frequently somewhat less precise than tracking data that aggregates multiple towers' observations, but it can still be used as the basis for services that track an individual device—including commercial services that query these records to find where an individual phone is currently connecting to the mobile network, and make the results available to governmental or private customers.

The Washington Post reported on how readily available this tracking information has become. Unlike the previous tracking methods, this tracking does not involve forcing carriers to turn over user data; instead, this technique uses location data that has been made available on a commercial basis. The IMSI catcher needs to be taken to a particular location in order to find or monitor devices at that location. Currently there is no reliable defense against all IMSI catchers. Some apps claim to detect their presence, but this detection is imperfect.

On devices that permit it, it could be helpful to disable 2G support so that the device can connect only to 3G and 4G networks and to disable roaming if you don't expect to be traveling outside of your home carrier's service area. These measures can protect against certain kinds of IMSI catchers. Modern smartphones have other radio transmitters in addition to the mobile network interface.

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They usually also have Wi-Fi and Bluetooth support. These signals are transmitted with less power than a mobile signal and can normally be received only within a short range such as within the same room or the same building , although sometimes using a sophisticated antenna allows these signals to be detected from unexpectedly long distances; in a demonstration, an expert in Venezuela received a Wi-Fi signal at a distance of km or mi, under rural conditions with little radio interference.

Both of these kinds of wireless signals include a unique serial number for the device, called a MAC address, which can be seen by anybody who can receive the signal. The device manufacturer chooses this address at the time the device is created and it cannot be changed using the software that comes with current smartphones. Unfortunately, the MAC address can be observed in wireless signals even if a device is not actively connected to a particular wireless network, or even if it is not actively transmitting data.

Whenever Wi-Fi is turned on on a typical smartphone, the smartphone will transmit occasional signals that include the MAC address and thus let others nearby recognize that that particular device is present. This has been used for commercial tracking applications, for example to let shopkeepers determine statistics about how often particular customers visit and how long they spend in the shop. As of , smartphone manufacturers have started to recognize that this kind of tracking is problematic, but it may not be fixed in every device for years—if ever. In comparison to GSM monitoring, these forms of tracking are not necessarily as useful for government surveillance.

This is because they work best at short distances and require prior knowledge or observation to determine what MAC address is built into a particular person's device. However, these forms of tracking can be a highly accurate way to tell when a person enters and leaves a building. Turning off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on a smartphone can prevent this type of tracking, although this can be inconvenient for users who want to use these technologies frequently.

Wi-Fi network operators can also see the MAC address of every device that joins their network, which means that they can recognize particular devices over time, and tell whether you are the same person who joined the network in the past even if you don't type your name or e-mail address anywhere or sign in to any services. On a few devices, it is physically possible to change the MAC address so that other people can't recognize your Wi-Fi device as easily over time; on these devices, with the right software and configuration, it would be possible to choose a new and different MAC address every day, for example.

On smartphones, this commonly requires special software such as a MAC address-changing app. Currently, this option is not available for the majority of smartphone models.

Next generation wiretapping

Apps can ask the phone for this location information and use it to provide services that are based on location, such as maps that show you your position on the map. Some of these apps will then transmit your location over the network to a service provider, which, in turn, provides a way for other people to track you. The app developers might not have been motivated by the desire to track users, but they might still end up with the ability to do that, and they might end up revealing location information about their users to governments or hackers.

Some smartphones will give you some kind of control over whether apps can find out your physical location; a good privacy practice is to try to restrict which apps can see this information, and at a minimum to make sure that your location is only shared with apps that you trust and that have a good reason to know where you are. In each case, location tracking is not only about finding where someone is right now, like in an exciting movie chase scene where agents are pursuing someone through the streets.

It can also be about answering questions about people's historical activities and also about their beliefs, participation in events, and personal relationships. For example, location tracking could be used to try to find out whether certain people are in a romantic relationship, to find out who attended a particular meeting or who was at a particular protest, or to try and identify a journalist's confidential source. A tool called CO-TRAVELER uses this data to find relationships between different people's movements to figure out which people's devices seem to be traveling together, as well as whether one person appears to be following another.

This is the same method used by police over the years to track cell phone calls. However, the car's phone will need to be wired to some form of power source. This method may have difficulty providing precise information on quickly moving vehicles to the user, but will give direction and general vicinity. This article was written by the It Still Works team, copy edited and fact checked through a multi-point auditing system, in efforts to ensure our readers only receive the best information. To submit your questions or ideas, or to simply learn more about It Still Works, contact us.

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Cellular signals A simple and effective way to track a car is by using a prepaid cellphone. Video of the Day.

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There's an Android app my GF and I use -- it's called Life, and tracks our phone position in real-time and logs it for a month. Pretty maps and alerts when we enter or exit a geo-fenced area too. I don't care if she knows exactly where I go. I've told her that it's tracking her as well and to leave the group or uninstall it if she has problems with it. She's left it up because she doesn't care if I know where she is either.

If I really cared about location I'd hit "airplane mode" or leave the phone at home and use a burner with call-forwarding. I was able to use this to see when I left since I wasn't paying attention. Hey, if you don't mind people tacking you, why don't you post a link so that we can all do it?

Reader Comments

Eldakka profile , 17 Jan pm. Are you sure that the thieves weren't getting your location data so they knew when your home would be empty? Cowardly Lion , 18 Jan am. Ninja profile , 18 Jan am. I don't deny there are benefits to a good portion of technological devices.

But the tracking and the intrusion are annoying. Beware, make sure you guys aren't going to a place near some meth lab or something Things may get ugly if your geo data is caught up by govt surveillance ;-. DannyB profile , 17 Jan am. The Amazon Echo at least has a button you can press which alerts Amazon that you're about to discuss something really interesting. Does OnStar have such a button? Alphonse Tomato profile , 17 Jan am. Yeah, but like Amazon it can be worked without one.

Witness recent flurry of automated dollhouse orders after a TV news story quoted a little kid who ordered a dollhouse. So the button is a useful feature. For big brother. It would be humorous to push the button and then start talking shit.