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Are Your Cell Phone Calls Being Intercepted?

A corner-office-dwelling FrontBurnervian passes along this Popular Science story in which Les Goldsmith, the CEO of a company that makes a hyper-secure $3,500 mobile phone, says his team has located at least 17 phony cell towers across the United States. The accompanying map places one of those in or near Dallas.

The fake towers are known as “interceptors,” basically equipment used to (not surprisingly) intercept the calls and data coming out of passing phones. Who’s responsible for this? It’s a mystery:

What we find suspicious is that a lot of these interceptors are right on top of U.S. military bases.  So we begin to wonder – are some of them U.S. government interceptors?  Or are some of them Chinese interceptors?” says Goldsmith.  “Whose interceptor is it?  Who are they, that’s listening to calls around military bases?  Is it just the U.S. military, or are they foreign governments doing it?  The point is: we don’t really know whose they are.”

Gawker points out that even if you think Goldsmith is engaging in scare tactics to push product, the FCC has assembled a task force to look into the threat of interceptors being used by criminals. So, do you need yourself a CryptoPhone?

It depends on what level of security you expect, and who you might reasonably expect to be trying to listen in, says Oliver Day, who runs Securing Change, an organization that provides security services to non-profits.

“There’s this thing in our industry called “threat modeling,” says Day.  “One of the things you learn is that you have to have a realistic sense of your adversary. Who is my enemy?  What skills does he have?  What are my goals in terms of security?”

If  you’re not realistically of interest to the U.S. government and you never leave the country, then the CryptoPhone is probably more protection than you need. Goldsmith says he sells a lot of phones to executives who do business in Asia.  The aggressive, sophisticated hacking teams working for the People’s Liberation Army have targeted American trade secrets, as well as political dissidents.