Mobile Phones Can Be Remotely Programmed To Record Background Conversations

Picture of Mobile Phones

Anyone with a background in physics knows that reversing the polarity of the coil in a speaker will turn it into a microphone and visa versa. This fact has led many people to suspect, that mobile phones could be turned into a microphone and used to remotely listen into the background conversation of a person or persons under surveillance - even when their phone is switched off.

However, back in December 2006, confirmation that mobile phones can, and were, being used as a remote listening device came to light as a result of a ruling by U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan on the legality of the so-called 'roving bug'. It had been approved by U.S. Department of Justice officials for use against members of a New York organized crime family who were wary of conventional surveillance techniques such as tailing a suspect or wiretapping. Cell phones owned by two alleged mobsters, John Ardito and his attorney Peter Peluso, were used by the FBI to listen in on nearby conversations.

The news that the FBI had been remotely activating mobile phones as eaves dropping devices confirms what many activists have been saying for years.

& A cellular telephone can be turned into a microphone and transmitter for the purpose of listening to conversations in the vicinity of the phone. This is done by transmitting to the cell phone a maintenance command on the control channel. This command places the cellular telephone in the 'diagnostic mode.' When this is done, conversations in the immediate area of the telephone can be monitored over the voice channel. & - National Reconnaissance Organization newsletter,1997.

As long as I can remember there has been a kind of unspoken rule among activists about taking batteries out of mobile phones during meetings to prevent bugging - along with occasional arguments about it being paranoid. While it has long been known to be a theoretical possibility, the mafia court case confirms it is actually a practical technique and is being used.

It is not clear exactly how the FBI achieve their remote activation but it is known that it is possible to update the software on a mobile phone by sending an unnoticeable SMS message to a particular cell phone. Changes to the phones software than make it possible to spy on the user around the clock, as long as the phone has power. All SMS messages can be read and all calls and conversations can be listened to, including those taking place in the vicinity of the phone. It would also be possible to access and copy address books and other information stored on the phone.

It should be fairly obvious to anyone that simply 'switching off' a mobile phone could not prevent the software from reactivating the phone at will. Like most computers, the on/off switch on a mobile phone is simply a button that requests the software to do something, ie.. turn the phone on or off - or more accurately, switch the phone between standby and normal operations. Many have an alarm feature which can operate when the phone is apparently 'switched off'.

Some of the vulnerabilities of mobile phones may only be exploitable by the state or private interests with financial muscle to obtain access to the records of mobile phone networks. Others however are much easier to exploit and well within the capabilities of private investigators. One example is the ability to read mobile phone numbers from all phones in a room as those phone routinely poll and communicate with the nearest cell phone repeater.

And lets not forget the ability to track cell phones (again, potentially even when they are turned off). With the data retention laws requiring mobile phone networks to keep this data for a year or so, it is easy for the authorities (or private agencies with influence) to not only monitor somebody's movements but also cross reference that with other people and build up accurate pictures of networks of association.

Original Article taken from 2006

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