Are Fake Cell Phone Towers Tapping Into Your Private Conversations?

In August, a report in Popular Science revealed the existence of a number of “interceptor” cell phone towers across the United States. This only added fuel to the fire in terms of the debate over the government’s use of surveillance equipment, and whether it is an infringement of constitutional rights.

There has been much speculation regarding the use of these mysterious towers, with some even going as far as to suggest they are used by criminal gangs, foreign spies or terrorists, or even that they are a surveillance tool used by government agencies. Here’s what is known about the towers so far.

How were the they first discovered?

Contrary to what one would expect, a press release highlighting the unveiling of a high-end smartphone delivered the first news of the mystery towers, not an official government document, research paper, or security researcher’s findings.

ESD America published a map detailing the locations of the “interceptor” cell towers in order to illustrate what the “what the CryptoPhone can do that less expensive competitors cannot,” Popular Science wrote. The GSMK Crpytophone 500 is similar to the Samsung Galaxy SIII, but boasts heavy-duty modifications. It’s being marketed as a more secure alternative to standard mobile phones, but can cost upwards of $3,500.

ESD America has now become the source for nearly every story related to fake towers, and gradually releases further details as they develop and as the Crptyophone owner’s discover them.

How can a fake cell phone tower be used to intercept a call?

When a cell phone connects to a fake tower, whoever is operating the device can listen in on calls, intercept text messages, and even go as far as send fake text message directly from the phone. Additionally, it is possible to monitor and track the physical location of a mobile phone, meaning these towers could possibly be used to follow people as they travel within the area of the fake cell tower.

These towers are already becoming an issue in China, where data thieves, hackers, and scammers use them to coerce people into releasing their credit card information, based on a report on The Verge. As cell phones automatically connect to the strongest signal available, it is quite easy for criminals to have access to cell phones. There are an estimated 13 million fake messages sent each day alone, according to Chinese security company Qihoo Security.

Initially, there were thought to only be 19 towers statewide, however, the number has since risen to 45. There has yet to be any confirmation on how who operating the towers, the speculation continues to circulate. While the mystery towers most certainly exist, their purpose as well as their operators remain just that — a mystery. However, the debate over the government’s access to personal cell phone data and usage continues to garner both attention and concern.

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