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For Sale: Systems That Can Secretly Track Where Cellphone ­sers Go Around the Globe

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How you can be tracked anywhere in the world.

Private companies are selling equipment systems that can the locations of cellphone users to governments.

Credit: The Washington Post

Privately owned surveillance companies are offering systems capable of tracking the location of any cellphone user to within a few blocks or less to governments around the globe.

Marketing materials from companies describe surveillance systems that exploit the lax-to-nonexistent security of the decades-old SS7 telecommunications network used by telecom firms around the world to route calls, text messages, and data.

German security researcher Tobias Engel first demonstrated methods of gathering location data from the SS7 network in 2008 and more sophisticated techniques have been developed since then. A more secure replacement for SS7 is in development, but it will likely be a decade or more before it is fully deployed, and although some carriers cooperate with government surveillance efforts, some systems are capable of harvesting location data without carriers' knowledge.

The systems are marketed to governments and often paired with other tools such as ISMI catchers, portable devices also known by the trade name StingRay, which act as cellular transmitters and are capable of locating devices, intercepting calls, data, and texts, as well as installing spyware on phones.

Although such systems are outlawed within some countries' boundaries, they often are marketed to governments for the purpose of tracking individuals across borders and a lack of international law concerning the technology makes regulating its use extremely difficult.

From The Washington Post
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