It has been discovered that surveillance devices used for intercepting text messages and phone calls were operating in Washington last year, including around the White House. According to a letter from the Department of Homeland Security to Senator Ron Wyden, the gadgets, called IMSI catchers, were uncovered by the department.
While the letter did not state who was operating the devices, the revelation backs up research that foreign intelligence agencies might be using similar gadgets to spy on officials working in the capital of the United States. One of the well-known brands of IMSI catchers is StingRay, and are a common device used by many foreign intelligence services, such as China and Russia.
In a statement on Thursday, Senator Wyden said “This admission from DHS bolsters my concern about stingrays and other spying devices being used to spy on Americans’ phones”. “Given the reports of rogue spying devices being identified near the White House and other government facilities, I fear that foreign intelligence services could target the president and other senior officials.”
ISMI devices imitate cell towers, deceiving mobile phones into connecting to them and the ISMI collects text messages, calls and data streams. Fortunately, unlike other forms of phone interference, ISMI gadgets need to be nearby for devices to connect to it. The devices can also be used to transmit data to a cell phone and can install malicious software – such as viruses – to steal information contained on the mobile phone or to monitor communications.
The letter from the DHS also revealed that the DHS was aware of SS7 – a global cellular network messaging system that can intercept calls and texts, and can even locate phones anywhere in the world.