back to article Confirmed: UK police forces own IMSI grabbers, but keeping schtum on use

Despite a nationally observed policy where they neither confirm nor denying using them, British police forces' widespread ownership of IMSI grabbers was confirmed today. An investigation by indie journalism outfit the Bristol Cable has has revealed that five forces, including Avon and Somerset Constabulary, have been …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Seems to me this story confirms the canard

    about being equipped to fight the last war.

    I have no doubt this kit will catch some ne'er do wells, who will have the suitably gormless look of criminals caught by the police.

    I have every doubt this kit will catch really nasty bad guys who will have learned long ago what "off grid" means.

    By the way, have they got enough people who speak Arabic, just in case the bad guys start facing each other in handwritten non-western scripts ?

  2. m0rt

    "The minutes continued to state that “West Midlands and Staffordshire Police have recently purchased and operated 4G-compatible CCDC equipment”. "

    Which is quite amusing. Basically 4G coverage, unless you are actually in Stafford, for examlpe, is basically crap. So if this suddenly improves, you know why. :)

    Anyway, If what they do is currently dodgy, Government will change the law to legalise it. There are no protections because those protections interfere with our 'protection' so therefore if we require protecting from the protectors then the official stance is why are we protecting our 'protected' interests? "You must be a bad guy".

    Yeah. I am with Ron Swanson on the subject of Government.

    1. Arthur the cat Silver badge
      Trollface

      Basically 4G coverage, unless you are actually in Stafford, for examlpe, is basically crap. So if this suddenly improves, you know why.

      Right, so next time I visit my sister-in-law in almost coverage free Powys I should phone in an anonymous tip to Crimestoppers about wannabee jihadis having a training weekend in the area.

      1. m0rt

        Actually - you have a good point. Maybe the solution to UK mobile coverage isn't more silly policies, it is actually getting the police to be responsible for coverage. Maybe this is the solution for 100% coverage....

      2. JohnMurray

        Try Norfolk. Large areas struggle with 2G! With the amount of Air Force bases in the place, you would expect spoof 4G to be wall-to-wall!

        1. ricardian

          Try the Northern Isles of Orkney. A reliable mobile signal of ANY sort would be welcome, I rarely use my mobile but when I do I have to either go up into the attic, go to the bottom of the garden or go across the road to get any sort of a signal

  3. Anonymous C0ward

    Is it possible to include in a custom ROM, if not a secure authentication, at least a check whether it's likely you're connected to one of these?

    1. Your alien overlord - fear me
    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Is it possible to include in a custom ROM, if not a secure authentication, at least a check whether it's likely you're connected to one of these?

      Well, that's the annoying thing. AFAIK, to intercept, these things force the phone link into unencrypted mode. The part of the phone spec that says that your phone should tell you if that happens .. is apparently no longer implemented. In other words, we DID have a means to detect it, but it was apparently inconvenient to some agencies that mere civilians would be able to ask questions.

      Caveat: this was from a while back, not sure this still applies so I'd welcome any updates.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        No they do not

        They simply have valid certificates (for 3 and 4G) and appropriate OOM connectivity to get valid keys for 2G for the relevant network they are configured to capture.

        I do not quite see what is the point of using them at that point by the way - if you have made the operator issue you valid crypto keys, you might as well just hook up into their gear and get a proper feed. Costs less, works across the whole country and is covered 100% by existing legislation (RIPA and friends).

        Same is valid for the USA too by the way - with the amount of data captured you might as well hook up into the operator network and be done with it.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: No they do not

          I do not quite see what is the point of using them at that point by the way - if you have made the operator issue you valid crypto keys, you might as well just hook up into their gear and get a proper feed. Costs less, works across the whole country and is covered 100% by existing legislation (RIPA and friends).

          You've more or less answered your own question. Under RIPA, the police require a court order for intercept which means there is evidence it has happened and a degree of oversight, laughably small as it is. The reason for that is simple: the telephone company has its own liability to take care of, and without a proper court order THEY are exposed - the result is generally that law enforcement generally doesn't even get the time of day unless the paperwork is done (well, at least at the time when I worked with legal intercept). Oh, and naturally, such a service comes at a price (it's a telco, after all :) ).

          By having their own toys, law enforcement can short circuit all that pesky due diligence stuff and can happily avoid any accountability for having it "accidentally" switched on when they get bored. Of course, after they'll still need to do the normal court order stuff or do something else to obtain evidence that is admissible in court but at least they've avoided all the annoying court cases they'd get when they listen in to someone without any valid reason. After all, who's going to know?

          If this all sounded slightly sarcastic, it's because I know police investigations tend to be operated "á charge" - they are focused on finding guilt, not innocence. They are by no means unbiased, so a lack of transparency and accountability is a bad thing indeed.

      2. NonSSL-Login
        Coat

        The older versions (or current cheaper versions) work by using a downgrade attack to 2g/3g which has next to no security. The newer versions can work with 4g directly from my understanding.

        On android phones you can type this in to the dialer and disable 2g and 3g if you want, which protects against the older/cheaper stingrays at least: *#*#4636#*#*

        There are a couple of android apps that try and see if you are connected to a stingray by a few methods, some of which need a baseline connection to the cell tower in your area, which you have to assume is stingray free at the time. So has caveats. One also calls you from a US number and sends text and tries to figure out the route but not had much luck with the apps even using them at events where i'm sure they are in use.

        5g, or 6g if it's too late, needs to get some proper security built in to prevent these issues. They need some sort of bridge to get over the backwards compatibility issues worldwide which currently prevents them doing it. It might close the S7 protocol issues that anyone can use to track someone.

        Anyone with a laptop can create a stingray by spending about 500 quid on a decent SDR/Software defined radio and software on the web. Will it take criminals using this on a larger scale to force the upgrades?

        These devices, police issued or not, force all traffic in an area through them, even if they tell it to only check for a single phone. Depending on density of the area it can cause slow data, dropped calls and other deterioration of service. There is no oversight on the effects of the innocent.

        /rant

  4. Your alien overlord - fear me

    For this kind of money, you'd think they'd upgrade Tetra.

    1. Drew 11

      Tetra's being turfed for a LTS system anyway, isn't it?

  5. Al fazed Bronze badge
    Pint

    Maybe a spot of System Testing is called for ?

    Hmmm........ anarcho invents new form of poup street theatre involving flash audiences using their mobile phones ........

    Drink icon 'cause it's Monday

    ALF

  6. Valeyard

    "we won't confirm or deny..

    ...what we're spending millions of pounds of your money on."

    cheeky cunts. and to think it'd probably be less dangerous if it was just going toward hookers and coke with covert equipment as a nice little shield term

  7. Martin-73 Silver badge

    Would these devices not have a different cell ID to prevent clashing with existing equipment? If so, at least in your HOME area you could note all existing cells, and freak out if/when a new one pops up

  8. peasant

    Is this sill valid

    The devices exploit a long-known security shortcoming in the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) standards.

    Quoted from one of the last paragraphs

    I thought this was 2g, now we are up to 4g maybe soon 5g.

    2g seems so third world now

  9. P. Lee

    No GPS Apps?

    You'd think you could measure the strength of signals from various towers at different points as you move around to create a map of towers. Then if one appears where it wasn't before, you get a little warning.

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: No GPS Apps?

      They'll already have your IMEI and maybe a rough location as you're reading the warning.

  10. Mark 65

    OTT Comms

    If you have people using WhatsApp, Wickr, Signal and VPNs etc, does this expensive shit give them much information?

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      Re: OTT Comms

      It tells them which phones are nearby, in many cases that is very useful.

      Also you have to remember that very few criminals are masterminds like Moriarty...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: OTT Comms

        >It tells them which phones are nearby, in many cases that is very useful....

        Would be if it were the phones that committed the crimes - passing yours to a mate while you're off on a spree is an easy digital alibi.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: OTT Comms

      If you have people using WhatsApp, Wickr, Signal and VPNs etc, does this expensive shit give them much information?

      For WhatsApp they can just give Zuck a call (so no "expensive shit" needed), but these sorts of IMSI catchers are more focused on recording regular voice calls. I'm in no doubt that by now they can tap into the phone's data stream, but if that's encrypted all you'll get is meta data of the service provider end point.

  11. Ed_UK
    Black Helicopters

    Stingray Manual

    Psst - wanna see what the super-secret Stingray manual looks like?

    https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/3105641/iDEN-2-4-Operator-Manual.pdf

    E.

  12. BenR

    I think this is the most telling part:

    Privacy International's Matthew Rice told the Cable that “the findings – by revealing the codename – show that many police forces in the UK have invested in covert communications surveillance technology, yet the secrecy around them does not inspire confidence that the police are willing to be subjected to the level of scrutiny these powerful capabilities ought to attract.”

    Exactly this. Did anyone in the world really think that the UK Rozzers *DIDN'T* at least have access to this capability, let alone having it in-house? Of course not.

    And yest, you get comments like this:

    Warwickshire Police and West Mercia Police Temporary Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Cullen eventually told us: "Our main priority is to protect the public from harm and we achieve this by utilising a number of techniques, some of them covert in nature. To retain their effectiveness we are not able to openly discuss these methods."

    Noone is asking you to discuss in-depth the workings and methods. As evidenced by reading this thread, it isn't difficult to discover how these things work anyway. All people are saying is "Excuse me Mr. Constabulary - do you have the ability to intercept mobile communications? Yes/No?"

    1. Justicesays
      Unhappy

      The question people are really asking is

      Are you using Covert Mobile Intercept Technology to illegally spy on the public with no oversight?

      To which the answer is almost certainly "yes", which is why they wont talk about it.

      It will all be ignored until it turns out some copper was using it to listen in on his ex-wife's calls/texts, then goes out and murders her/her new boyfriend or whatever and they can't cover it up.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The question people are really asking is

        "It will all be ignored until it turns out some copper was using it to listen in on his ex-wife's calls/texts, then goes out and murders her/her new boyfriend or whatever and they can't cover it up."

        They'll just fit up the local weirdo for it, as usual.

  13. scrubber

    Blinded by safety

    I forget, who are the bad guys again...?

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Other stories you might like

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022