Monday, April 03, 2017

Who is Bugging Ottawa?

Somebody has Parliament Hill under surveillance. Nobody knows who it is.

CBC Ottawa has discovered that there's an IMSI at work.

The devices, sometimes known by the brand name of one model, StingRay, work by mimicking a cellphone tower to interact with nearby phones and read the unique ID associated with the phone — the International Mobile Subscriber Identity, or IMSI.

That number can then be used to track the phone and by extension the phone's user. In some instances, IMSI catchers can even be used to gain access to a phone's text messages and listen in on calls.

Because IMSI catchers have a radius of about half a kilometre in an urban setting, the IMSI catchers CBC detected could reach territory including Parliament Hill, the Prime Minister's Office in Langevin Block, National Defence headquarters, as well as the U.S. and Israeli embassies.

We then used even more sophisticated equipment called an Overwatch Sensor that confirmed the presence of an IMSI catcher close to Parliament Hill.

CBC took its data to Les Goldsmith, CEO of a company that provides counter-surveillance services.

As for who might be behind it, Goldsmith says IMSI catchers are used by law enforcement, federal agencies as well as organized crime and foreign intelligence.

Based on the configurations suggested by CBC's results, he believes the IMSI catchers detected in Ottawa could be foreign made.

"We're seeing more IMSI catchers with different configurations and we can build a signature. So we're seeing IMSI catchers that are more likely Chinese, Russian, Israeli and so forth," he said.

"Somebody could be listening to calls right now and [the phone owners] have no idea," he said.


Toby said...

During the Cold War the Russians and others used Ottawa as a base to spy on the Americans and each other. They are probably all at it again.

All of the possible candidates mentioned in the article are possible. I think there is one other: a political dirty tricks operation. We never did get to the root of the robocall business. The same crew may be monitoring politicians' phones in order to catch them out on some gaff.

These days, those who require privacy should use encrypted phones. Blackberry's are more secure than most. An iphone is an open invitation.

Mound, on your CBC link check the comment by Dan Beltran.

The Mound of Sound said...

Toby, you're referencing Igor Gouzenko, Fred Rose and a gaggle of others. When I started work in Ottawa I looked up Gouzenko's old apartment on Somerset St. Apparently it's still there. Dreadful looking place. Looked like something that would not stand out in Moscow.

The idea that any Canadian political party would resort to something so criminal is dismaying but who can rule it out? It's an interesting story if it goes any further.

the salamander said...

.. 'the game's afoot' ..
That may be from a John LeCarre novel..
So let's start with an interesting premise..
Somebody is monitoring cel phones at the epicenter of Canada's Government
not to mention where all 'politics' and 'business interests' converge..
and since they are now one and the same.. uh ..

Should we presume the same is occuring in Toronto's financial center ?

Oh.. and Canada's vaunted RCMP, Ontario OPP
and all the dark n devious 'security agencies' are completely caught unawares..
It was the media who sniffed it all out ? Oh, right..

Its to laugh..
Big Brother is alive and well.. so is Spy vs Spy ..
The Liar's Club is engaged 24/7 ..
Canadians are being fed such nonsense via 'the authorities'
that its laughable & insulting..

I'll await a coherent explanation (which will never happen)
or the usual fantastical denials & deflections
that are now commonplace spew from our 'public servants'
and the duly appointed 'security forces'
who we know fudge everything.. bend the truth
or have zero capability to comprehend 'truth'
Its just not part of their 'nature' ..

Toby said...

Anyone who can get hold of a IMSI device will use it so we can point fingers in many directions. It is highly likely that organized crime will, sooner or later if not already, use them to siphon up personal data. Watch for a spike in identity theft.

The Mound of Sound said...

"The game's afoot." Sal, wasn't that Conan Doyle?

I would expect surveillance, including illegal intercepts of communications, to be at a level commensurate with the risk of being detected and apprehended. If the odds are good of getting away with it there'll be more people apt to do it.

The CBC article is focused on IMSI and for good reason. What I'd like to know is whether this technology is really stand alone or does it tend to be employed, by covert users, in conjunction with other surveillance technologies.

The Mound of Sound said...

Toby, does privacy even exist any more except as a quaint notion from a time past?

Toby said...

The Mound of Sound asked, "does privacy even exist any more except as a quaint notion from a time past?"

Well, nicknames like Mound and Toby are attempts at privacy; we do what we can. Actually, privacy is a relatively recent phenomenon. There is no privacy in a hunter/gatherer culture or in any situation where large numbers live under one roof. Privacy requires enough wealth to enable separation. The Internet has brought back the village but on a global scale. What is curious to me is that so many are so willing, even blasé, to give away their personal privacy on open systems like Facebook and Twitter without even setting the few security options. The lack of self protection is stunning.

There are ways to protect oneself. I am sure there is a file on me somewhere which identifies me as one of the few who does not have a cell phone and does not have accounts at Facebook and Twitter.

Life has risks. One cannot hide from everything all the time. Paranoia is expensive. Still, it pays to be prudent, to have some street smarts. It should not have to be said but the number one rule to maintain Internet privacy is stay off of porn sites; the porn is simply bait.

As to your question, I think that ultimately privacy is a state of personal behavior. If there is something you don't want others to know, don't tell them. I am not implying anything nefarious here. Do others really need to know the state of your health, your finances, past embarrassments? We may choose to talk intimately with a spouse or a best friend but to any and all who pass however fleetingly? It's a choice.

'ole Canadian soldier said...

curious that the RCMP hired a slew of surveillance operators in the fall of 2016 and we find that they indeed have purchased two hand fulls of imsi catchers. my theory is that they were conducting an RCMP training exercise and miraculously got caught intercepting Canadians personal phone calls....without a warrant...again. what little democracy we had, is lost.

The Mound of Sound said...

I wonder if the Quebec barn burnings were a "training exercise" OCS? It would be a chilling thought if the RCMP were running something like this on the Hill. Tell me it ain't so.