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Cell Tracker Apps?

In the category of “there’s an app for that”, SRLabs, a German company, now offers an app to detect signatures indicating your phone is connecting to an IMSI catcher. An IMSI catcher pretends to be cell tower – it connects your phone and catches some identifying information that can be used to locate and track you. This app specifically works against “STINGRAY”, a product made by Florida-based Harris Corporation.

This site previously published an article on other aspects of cellphone tracking.

I imagine this is a meaningless article to most, but it turned me into a bit of a conspiracy theorist. First of all, I don’t think it will work outside of an ideal, lab-like, set of circumstances. It would be almost impossible to use it in a meaningful way in real-time. I can’t help but think that the type of electronic signatures they are looking for will get false-positives as your phone dynamically moves between legitimate base stations, or between 3G, 4G and LTE.

I’m a skeptic by choice and vocation. Every app is designed to sell advertising or steer you to a product. Companies are not altruistic. For the same reasons I don’t trust drug studies paid for by pharmaceutical companies, I’m suspicious when I see stories like this. Harris isn’t the only company making IMSI catchers. They just make a decent one and have leveraged their positioning in federal contracting into a lot of success for STINGRAY. Among their many competitors in this field is Germany’s Rohde & Schwarz, a power player in the signals intelligence field. I’m fairly certain that an app like this could not be made without technical specification information related to Qualcomm chipsets. The kind of technical support that is very expensive.

So, what does this mean? Intelligence and law enforcement agencies aren’t going to stop using IMSI catchers. However, things like this app may start to chip away at Harris Corporation’s position of dominance in the lucrative U.S. market. Seems the story is far more important than the app.


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