Russian Military Apparently Using Cell Tower Spoofers To Send Propaganda Directly To Ukrainian Soldiers' Phones

from the phrase-'phone's-blowing-up'-just-got-a-bit-darker dept

We’ve often discussed the darker side of the repurposed war tech that’s made its way into the hands of local law enforcement. Much like backdoored encryption (something some in law enforcement would like to see), rebranded war surveillance gear like Stingrays may sound great when touted by good guys, but we should never forget bad guys have access to the same equipment.

The seldom-discussed capabilities of Stingray devices are on full display in other countries. So far, we haven’t seen US law enforcement use Stingrays to intercept communications or purposefully disrupt them. (A lack of public evidence doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened, however.) The power is there, though. Stingrays act as faux cell towers and force all phones in the area to route their communications through them. This has the potential to be more than merely disruptive to cell service. The devices carry the capability to act as roving wiretaps. They also have the power to act as very frightening purveyors of government propaganda.

Television journalist Julia Kirienko was sheltering with Ukrainian soldiers and medics two miles (three kilometers) from the front when their cellphones began buzzing over the noise of the shelling. Everyone got the same text message at the same time.

“Ukrainian soldiers,” it warned, “they’ll find your bodies when the snow melts.”

Text messages like the one Kirienko received have been sent periodically to Ukrainian forces fighting pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of the country. The threats and disinformation represent a new form of information warfare, the 21st-century equivalent of dropping leaflets on the battlefield.

The messages — sent to cell phones presumably by Russian government operatives — contain a mixture of propaganda and threats, warning recipients they’re not much use to their children dead, or attempting to portray Ukrainian forces as being in disarray and on the run.

Multiple investigations have pinpointed the source of these communications: Russian LEER-3 electronic warfare systems feature drone-mounted cell site simulators launched from communications trucks for more effective cell communication interception/disruption. Russia is waging a mobile war of words with enemy combatants.

A 2015 article in Russia’s Military Review magazine said the LEER-3 has a cell site simulator built into a drone that is capable of acting over a 6-kilometer-wide area and hijacking up to 2,000 cellphone connections at once. That makes it a “pretty plausible” source for the rogue texts in Ukraine, said Hardman, the former signals analyst.

What isn’t mentioned in the AP story is this: if the Russian military is dropping propaganda text bombs on opposing forces, it’s definitely intercepting their communications as well. The devices do both and the nearby communications truck provides a mobile base for harvesting, snooping, and analysis. That this version is still on the battlefield rather than in the hands of Russian police (although it’s surely there as well) doesn’t offer much comfort to citizens not currently in war zones but still likely considered to be “enemies” by other governments.

The devices are also scary cheap — at least in terms of cost/benefit ratio. A half-million dollars gives governments the power to disrupt communications in multiple ways. It can spew propaganda directly into captive phones, pick up communications from these phones on the fly, track cell phone users, and, if nothing else, simply make it impossible for anyone to communicate with anyone else in the immediate area.

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Comments on “Russian Military Apparently Using Cell Tower Spoofers To Send Propaganda Directly To Ukrainian Soldiers' Phones”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Exactly this. The simulators can not only track the location of a target, but these days with pretty much everyone carrying a phone, they can map out the location and number of all combatants. They can thus also get extremely accurate records of troop movements, and if they can identify phones as belonging to specific individuals, they can also tell when the leadership is on th emove, or when the lower ranking soldiers are being called up to the frontlines.

And this isn’t limited to cell phones; this can be done with most standard radio frequencies with a laptop and a fairly cheap drone.

Aaron Walkhouse (profile) says:

Re: It's too close for missiles.

Cell phones are short range radios which actually reduce power
wherever possible to save battery life. ‌ Anti-radiation missiles
typically have a minimum range of hundreds of meters.

Without a lock, you don’t waste an expensive missile in hopes
of a last-second contact and individual soldiers are not worth
the expense.

Determining cell phone locations is not precise or timely
enough for tactical uses either. ‌ You can’t aim a weapon
with those signals because they are designed to maintain
contact with cell towers in a noisy, multipath environment.
(The signal is both weak and bouncing all over the place.)

Tracking a single phone is possible but requires you to get
so close that it’s much safer to put down the tracker and
unholster a pistol because it’s inside pistol range anyway.

intrautarchy says:

Accuse the opposition of what you are guilty of to deflect blame

It is more likely that the accused are being targeted by those who most deserve to be accused. With the deception squad in Mossad having planted the exact same thing with their Trojan relay stations deep into enemy territories during the 80s to send terrorist orders to Libyan embassies which led to Commander-in-Crime Reagan to bomb Libya in 1986, the burden of proof almost requires capturing communications in real time from the point of origin to the point of transmission to the point of receipt. You should not believe any thing and you especially should not trust anyone who would benefit the most from the solution that comes from the reaction to the manufactured problem that is being blamed on the target by that someone doing the blaming. Deception is part of the bedrock of geopolitics. Don’t believe anything that you yourself cannot prove in doing your own research.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

So are you saying this is propaganda or not? Because if it were then shouldn’t their be evidence of this within their media streams?

There’s no vpns in Ukraine, but Romania has a few, so I connected to a vpn in Romania in attempt to find the local results from search engines and this is what I found:

The top result is Techdirt followed by several US based propaganda sites..Not one of them is from Europe…FFS, Romania boarders Ukraine but the top result for this bullshit is Techdirt and nothing else!

You are conniving fuck tards TD…FUCK YOU, YOU LYING PIECES OF SHIT!

Vikarti Anatra (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

VPN use in Ukraine will increase very soon.
Ukraine goverment decided to impose their own sanctions against Russia. As ‘le’ts block access to Russian companies. Including their websites’. This includes Yandex and who still have A LOT of users. There were several days between announcement and actual block. One of VKontakte’s reactions was to send all such users link about how to use anticensorship tools, including VPNs.

Personaongrata says:

Lies, Damn Lies and The Smith-Mundt Moderization Act of 2012

Russian Military Apparently Using Cell Tower Spoofers To Send Propaganda Directly To Ukrainian Soldiers’ Phones

US government Using Mass Media To Send Propaganda Directly To American Citizens Homes (Phones Too)

It is true with congress passing and executive signing of The Smith-Mundt Moderization Act of 2012 which allows for the domestic dissemination of propaganda to American audiences by the US government.

Italicized/bold text below was excerpted from a page titled – **National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013**:

An unnamed Pentagon official who was concerned about the 2012 law version stated: "It removes the protection for Americans. It removes oversight from the people who want to put out this information. There are no checks and balances. No one knows if the information is accurate, partially accurate, or entirely false.”[44] The monthly magazine The Atlantic echoed those concerns by pointing out to two USA Today journalists who became target of a smear and propaganda campaign after they reported that the U.S. military "information operations" program spent millions of U.S. dollars in marketing campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq criticized as ineffective and poorly monitored.[38][47] As it turned out one of firm leaders who executed the marketing campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan admitted to be a part of the smear and propaganda campaign against the USA Today reporters.[48]

It reads an awful lot like what is happening in the main stream media today with the daily publication of innuendo and propaganda in place of facts and truth.

If you are an American citizen which is of greater concern to you and your family/friends:

Russian/Ukrainian propaganda or US government propaganda directed at you and the beholden mass media that reports it as fact?

Ninja (profile) says:

I wonder if this could be fixed with encryption or any other countermeasure from the service providers. It seems to me that any moron with resources to burn could get one. Don’t come with the “but it’s Govt controlled” bullshit. Much like tons of weapons, including nuclear, are Govt controlled and end up in the least likely places. Shouldn’t this be something we as a society should be working on solving?

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