More than 15 fake cell towers, or IMSIs, were discovered in Washington D.C. by members of firms Integricell and ESD America while they were driving around the city in search of fake towers. A map was created and each fake tower’s location has been pinpointed. Fake towers have been surfacing all over the U.S. for years.
“I think there’s even more here. That was just us driving around for a day and a half,” Les Goldsmith, ESD America’s CEO, said.
“Also known as cell site simulators, or stingrays, IMSI catchers are computer-controlled radio transmitters designed to perform “man in the middle attacks” on mobile devices in a cellular network. They’ve actually been in existence since 1993, when they were first designed to steal nearby phones’ International Mobile Subscriber Identities (IMSIs), an ID that can be used to request other personal information about the phone. Since then, much like you, their capabilities have expanded impressively: IMSI catchers can be used to intercept calls and SMS texts, including two-factor authentication information; They can track a phone’s location; Deploy geo-targeted spam; Issue operator messages that reconfigure the phone, installing permanent backdoor mechanisms; and/or probe the phone’s SIM card for its encryption key and other stored information. (All SIM cards have an encryption key; It is pretty standard)” researchers said.
The IMSIs were previously always physical towers; however, now the “towers” can be so small that they can be hidden anywhere and even worn under clothes like a wire. Because the devices are becoming smaller, the towers are becoming harder to locate and even more damaging to our privacy. Also, “a creepy thing about these fake cell phone towers is that it’s almost impossible to know who or what is responsible for each specific one without capturing each specific one,” researchers said.
Les Goldsmith even believes that the IMSIs that have been discovered outside of army bases in the U.S. are Chinese. Researchers have not yet proved this theory.