Spying With Cell Phones

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A months-long investigation by News/Radio-Canada found that devices called IMSI catchers are being used to monitor cell phones in the area near the Capitol.

A News/Radio Canada investigation revealed that someone was using a phone tracking device near the Center for Democracy in Canada. (Adrian Wilder/Canadian Press)

Spying With Cell Phones

Spying With Cell Phones

A months-long investigation by News/Radio-Canada revealed the use of devices that track and monitor cell phones in the area near Parliament Hill.

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Known as IMSI collectors, these devices have been used by Canadian police and security services, foreign intelligence agencies, and even organized crime.

These devices, sometimes known by the StingRay brand for a model, work by mimicking cell towers to interact with nearby phones and read the unique ID associated with the phone – the International Mobile Subscriber Identity, or IMSI.

This number can be used to trace the phone and extend the phone’s user. In some cases, the IMSI catcher can even be used to access the phone’s text messages and receive calls.

To investigate, our reporter used a device that detects IMSI pickups made by the German company GSMK. Although it looks like a normal cell phone, the CryptoPhone will sound an alarm when the cell phone’s fake antenna intercepts its signal.

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Media in the US, Norway and Australia have done similar tests, but this is the first time Canadian media has used it.

During testing in December and January, the CryptoPhone sounded the alarm at locations around Parliament Hill, including the nearby Byward Market, the Rideau Center shopping mall and offices in downtown Ottawa.

ESD America’s CryptoPhone (purchased by Radio-Canada) can detect when an IMSI receiver tries to intercept it. ( )

Spying With Cell Phones

As IMSI collectors have a radius of about half a kilometer in urban environments, detected IMSI collectors can reach territories such as the Capitol, the Office of the Prime Minister in the Langevin neighborhood, Defense Headquarters and the US and US Embassies. Israel.

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We then used a more sophisticated device, called an Overwatch sensor, to confirm the presence of an IMSI Seeker near Capitol Hill.

We wanted to know more about who could be using the IMSI collector or the pitfalls we detected, so we asked the US CryptoPhone provider to review the alerts we received.

When we brought the results to the company’s Las Vegas office, CEO and co-founder Les Goldsmith said, “All along, you’ve been seeing IMSI catcher activity.”

We describe the part of town where we find IMSI collectors – full of politicians, political workers and civil servants.

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As for who might be behind it, Goldsmith said IMSI collectors are used by law enforcement, federal agencies, organized crime and foreign intelligence agencies.

“We’re seeing more IMSI pickups with different configurations and we can build signatures. So it’s more likely that the IMSI pickups we’re seeing are Chinese, Russian, Israeli, etc.,” he said.

He knows very well the IMSI catcher from a Canadian security agency. We agree to retain your identity so as not to compromise secure work.

Spying With Cell Phones

“Congressmen or people working on Capitol Hill can be exposed and can be victims of such attacks – which undermine our sovereignty,” he said.

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The black spots are where /Radio-Canada detected the IMSI receiver in Ottawa. The circles show the range an IMSI collector can cover. ( )

“We learned that Russian intelligence was stationed near the CSIS and the ship was equipped with equipment to capture IMSIs. After X days or weeks, they were able to identify the IMSI numbers belonging to the intelligence officers, as these calls took 8 hours a day in the same place.”

When the Russians do their next covert operation, he said, they will use the IMSI collector to see if there are any Canadian intelligence-related numbers nearby. If there is, they will cancel the surgery.

A Chinese embassy representative told CNN that it was “not only irrational but even irresponsible” to suggest that the country would attend the event.

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Our security experts have suggested that the IMSI pickups we’ve seen may be the work of domestic agencies such as Canada’s electronic spy agency, Communications Security Agency.

“One possibility is that communications security agencies have been forced to monitor the network in a defensive manner for protection purposes,” he said.

“To be clear, under the law, the CSE cannot direct its activities anywhere in Canada or against anyone in Canada,” a spokesperson said in a statement, adding that the CSE respects the law.

Spying With Cell Phones

IMSI pickups disguise themselves as cell towers to attract nearby cell signals and intercept the unique identification number, International Mobile Subscriber Identity or IMSI associated with your phone. ( )

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Last June, it was revealed that the RCMP used IMSI collectors in their work. Quebec’s Superior Court suspended an injunction to reveal that police are using the technology as part of an investigation into the 2011 death of Salvatore (Blacksmith Saar) Montagna. Senior member, killed outside Montreal.

The documents also show that the RCMP received court authorization to use IMSI collectors, which the RCMP refers to as Mobile Device Interceptors, or MDIs.

Recent court cases may also reveal police reluctance to discuss the extent to which they use the devices. Last month, federal government lawyers filed a suspension case against 30 of the nearly 50 suspects arrested in an operation against the Montreal mafia.

A prosecutor told reporters one reason was that evidence collected by the RCMP raised “unprecedented legal issues” but declined to provide more information.

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Some privacy experts believe officials are concerned whether the use of IMSI collectors — including debates over how the data is collected — will be upheld in court.

The city’s police force also uses the technology. Vancouver Police admit they borrowed the RCMP IMSI catcher in 2007 and say they will use the technology again.

In 2016, the Winnipeg Police Service, the Durham Regional Police Service, the Ontario Provincial Police Service, and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service also received licenses from federal law enforcement officials to purchase IMSI collectors from according to documents obtained by the News.

Spying With Cell Phones

We contacted police, security agencies, embassies and the federal government to ask if they were related to the IMSI catcher we identified.

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The Department of Public Security, the Ottawa Police Service, the RCMP, and the CSIS responded in the same way: they do not discuss specific investigative techniques, but follow the law, respect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and follow due process of justice.

She pointed to the lack of transparency if Canadians only learned in 2017 that the RCMP has had IMSI pickups since 2005.

Teresa Scassa, director of information law research at the University of Ottawa in Canada, said Ottawa’s use of IMSI collectors is “very concerning.” ( )

She also said it is unclear whether authorities can always obtain warrants. Even if they did, Scasa said, there is still the question of what happens to the information about the other people being investigated.

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“Is it destroyed? Was it withheld? Was it used for other purposes? It’s not always clear whether the search warrant contains conditions that require specific processing of information after the fact.”

Given that many groups may have access to IMSI collectors, Scassa believes the government can do more to protect Canadians’ privacy.

She believes agencies using IMSI collectors should be required to obtain authorization when using the devices, destroy information intercepted but not relevant to the investigation, and report important information to the Privacy Commissioner, such as how often and under what circumstances. they’ve been used. . If you’ve used Zoom in the last four months, you’re certainly familiar with pop-ups asking for permission to use your device’s microphone or camera. How else are you supposed to see or hear someone on the other line?

Spying With Cell Phones

But these permissions can have a more sinister side: Some apps don’t even bother to ask for your permission, turning your device into a pocket spy with cameras and microphones handy.

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For example, in 2018, over 250 apps on the App Store and Google Play market were listening to background audio through smartphone microphones, allowing apps to determine what you’re watching or listening to in order to display more targeted ads. Of course, there’s also a long-standing conspiracy theory that our smartphones are actively spying on us.

Good news: you can take some simple precautions to always protect your privacy and avoid surveillance apps. The following tips should only take a few seconds to complete.

This is a very quick personal safety exercise that might really surprise you. For example, when I checked which apps had access to the microphone on my Google Pixel 3a, I found that 16 out of 52 possible apps had access.

Although there is no application

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