Secret ‘Fake’ Cell Towers Found In The U.S. Could Be Eavesdropping On Android Calls

Privacy is becoming quite the profitable enterprise for those who can offer it. That includes Les Goldsmith, Chief Executive Officer of ESD America, maker of the CryptoPhone 500. What's special about the CrytpoPhone 500 is that it it sports a Samsung Galaxy S III body with a "hardened" version of Android that's had 468 vulnerabilities removed from the stock version. In doing so, the handset isn't susceptible to fake cell towers known as "interceptors."

According to Goldsmith, the Galaxy S III leaks data to unknown destinations around 80-90 times every hour. While that doesn't mean the phone has been hacked, the user has no idea if that data is coming out of an app, the OS, or a piece of spyware that may have slipped through, possibly through an interceptor.

Goldsmith shared with Popular Science a user generated map showing 17 different fake cell phone towers scattered throughout the U.S. in the month of July. As far as cell phones are concerned, interceptors look no different than regular towers, so there's nothing to stop a non-CrytpoPhone 500 from connecting with one. Once that happens, the phone is susceptible to a variety of over-the-air (OTA) attacks , including eavesdropping and installing spyware.

CryptoPhone 500

"Interceptor use is in the U.S. is much higher than people had anticipated," Goldsmith said. "One of our customers took a road trip from Florida to North Carolina and he found 8 different interceptors on that trip. We even found one at South Point Casino in Las Vegas."

It isn't known for sure who is running these fake towers, though Goldsmith says many of them are installed on top of U.S. military bases. Could this be one way the government is able to spy on phone calls? That certainly seems plausible, especially since the government would be able to afford the high price tag of an interceptor, which run "less than $100,000" according to Goldsmith.

To order a CryptoPhone 500, you have to request a quote. Goldsmith chooses not to publicly disclose how many phones he sells, nor is he willing to reveal a retail price for the handset, however he doesn't deny an MIT article reporting that he makes about 400 phones per week at $3,500 each.

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