Wednesday, February 21, 2024

An In-Depth Look of IMSI Catcher – A Device for Law Enforcement Agencies to Track Cell Phones

IMSI catcher is a surveillance tool  that masquerades as legitimate cell-phone towers, tricking phones within a certain radius into connecting to the device rather than a tower

There are countless YouTube videos and blogs that talk about IMSI catcher, which are popularly known as Stingrays in the United States.

These IMSI catcher devices allow law enforcement agencies the capabilities to track cell phones, gather information on that phone, and listen in on conversations.

Now whether an IMSI catcher detector is ethical or not is a subjected that has been talked about quite frequently. In this post, we help you understand the technology by answering some of the most basic questions about IMSI catchers and how they operate. Without further ado, following are 5 questions you always had about IMSI catchers.

What Is an IMSI Catcher?

The acronym IMSI catchers stands for Individual Mobile Subscriber Identity. These are present inside all cell phones and it helps mobile networks track individual mobile phones and thus connect them to their respective network plans.

IMSI Catcher are special surveillance equipment that can help law enforcement officers track cell phones and gather data. Officers can pinpoint a criminal’s exact location even if that person is not on their phone. The targeted cell phone simply needs to be on for an IMSI catcher to work.

How do IMSI Catcher work?

To understand how an IMSI catcher detector works you need to understand how mobile phones work. Mobile phones are manufactured to find the closest compatible cell tower.

IMSI catchers simply trick the targeted cell phone into believing that they are the closest cell tower. Once the cell phone connects to the IMSI catchers, the unit simply acts as a middle device between the real cell tower and the targeted cell phone.

So, all calls are routed from the phone to the IMSI catcher then to the original tower. This means there is no interruption in service and hence the targeted person has no clue their cell phone is being tracked.

Who Uses IMSI Catchers?

These devices were originally used by the military to intercept terrorist phone calls and find out exact locations of targets. Nowadays, Police and Border Patrol units are heavily dependent on this system. Before this technology was made available, authorities had to contact the network service provider in order to track cell phones.

This was a long-drawn process and it often allowed criminals to escape. Armed with an IMSI catcher, law enforcement agencies can now track any cell phone without having to involve the network service providers.

In What Scenarios IMSI Catchers Are Useful?

The most common military use of IMSI catchers is to track down terrorists overseas. Stingray IMSI catchers can be fitted to a drone. Once the drone is over an area where the enemy is suspected to be, the IMSI catchers can be used to track the exact location of the terrorist. Once the location data of the enemy is revealed, forces can be deployed to take the enemy out. Drones can also use the location data to precisely strike down the enemy.

Do IMSI Catcher Work on iPhones?

There is a belief among iPhone users that their phones are encrypted and thus they are safe from IMSI catchers. This is simply not true. Both Android and iOS devices can be tracked with ease using IMSI catchers.

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BALAJI is an Ex-Security Researcher (Threat Research Labs) at Comodo Cybersecurity. Editor-in-Chief & Co-Founder - Cyber Security News & GBHackers On Security.

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