<$BlogRSDUrl$>

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Speak into the Mike (in Your Pants) 

Courtesy of Zemblan patriot K.Z.: In the past we have seldom missed a chance to hector you about the privacy hazards of cell-phone technology, which in its current iteration allows the government (and potentially, private-sector snoops as well) to monitor your every movement. You may therefore imagine our embarrassment at having dozed through the disturbing revelations below, which came to light almost three months ago:
Cell phone users, beware. The FBI can listen to everything you say, even when the cell phone is turned off.

A recent court ruling in a case against the Genovese crime family revealed that the FBI has the ability from a remote location to activate a cell phone and turn its microphone into a listening device that transmits to an FBI listening post, a method known as a "roving bug." Experts say the only way to defeat it is to remove the cell phone battery.

"The FBI can access cell phones and modify them remotely without ever having to physically handle them," James Atkinson, a counterintelligence security consultant, told ABC News. "Any recently manufactured cell phone has a built-in tracking device, which can allow eavesdroppers to pinpoint someone's location to within just a few feet," he added.

According to the recent court ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan, "The device functioned whether the phone was powered on or off, intercepting conversations within its range wherever it happened to be."
CNet supplies the technical details:
An article in the Financial Times last year said mobile providers can "remotely install a piece of software on to any handset, without the owner's knowledge, which will activate the microphone even when its owner is not making a call."

Nextel and Samsung handsets and the Motorola Razr are especially vulnerable to software downloads that activate their microphones, said
James Atkinson, a counter-surveillance consultant who has worked closely with government agencies. "They can be remotely accessed and made to transmit room audio all the time," he said. "You can do that without having physical access to the phone."

Because modern handsets are miniature computers, downloaded software could modify the usual interface that always displays when a call is in progress. The spyware could then place a call to the FBI and activate the microphone--all without the owner knowing it happened. (The FBI declined to comment on Friday.)

"If a phone has in fact been modified to act as a bug, the only way to counteract that is to either have a bugsweeper follow you around 24-7, which is not practical, or to peel the battery off the phone," Atkinson said. Security-conscious corporate executives routinely remove the batteries from their cell phones, he added . . . .

A BBC
article from 2004 reported that intelligence agencies routinely employ the remote-activiation method. "A mobile sitting on the desk of a politician or businessman can act as a powerful, undetectable bug," the article said, "enabling them to be activated at a later date to pick up sounds even when the receiver is down."
And, from Fox TV, because we thought they could use the free publicity:

| | Technorati Links | to Del.icio.us