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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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 May 2017 @ 1:48pm

    If it's possible to determine the location of someone carrying a cell phone with these devices, then it would make targeting missiles quite a bit easier too! Which would mean a cell phone in a war zone is probably not the best idea. Just a thought...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 May 2017 @ 2:25pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 19 May 2017 @ 2:35pm

        Re: Re:

        Unless troops are absolute idiots, or were just dropped in to 2017, they aren't carrying tracking devices that can so easily reveal their location.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Aaron Walkhouse (profile), 19 May 2017 @ 8:11pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Aaron Walkhouse (profile), 19 May 2017 @ 8:15pm

      Aside from that…

      I note that Russia has just provided positive evidence of direct
      participation in the insurgency. ‌ Only they have that equipment
      and only they have the training to use it in that way.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    intrautarchy, 19 May 2017 @ 2:20pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 May 2017 @ 2:28pm

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

      Oh hey there, soldier of the Russian Troll Army! How's the propaganda war going?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 19 May 2017 @ 2:36pm

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

        How is that a message from the Russian Troll Army? Strawman, much?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 19 May 2017 @ 2:40pm

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

          HEY! Someone told him "Russia did it", so it must be true! /s

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 20 May 2017 @ 3:45pm

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

            I hope you're well paid. I've heard things aren't so great in Russia.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 May 2017 @ 3:33pm

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

      BRB traveling to conduct first hand research on the other side of the planet instead of trusting sources.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 May 2017 @ 2:55pm

    How do we know that the puppeteers of Ukraine aren't making this up?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 May 2017 @ 3:22pm

      Re:

      It's cute that you think we don't know a good little propaganda soldier when we see one. I do hope they pay in dollars as I hear rubles aren't worth so much these days.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 19 May 2017 @ 8:52pm

        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:

        https://www.bing.com/search?q=ukraine+russian+propaganda+text+phone&FORM=EDGEND

        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!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 19 May 2017 @ 9:15pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Just connected to several other countries and disguised myself as best as possible as being from those countries and the results are the same...all the results for this are coming from the US and nowhere else.

          #BoycottTechdirt

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 19 May 2017 @ 11:56pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Let me guess, your name is American Guyovith from Montanaland USA. Your favourite food is Hambugler and you drink from the BudwiserLite like real American yes?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Vikarti Anatra (profile), 21 May 2017 @ 11:56am

          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 vk.com 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.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 May 2017 @ 3:57pm

      Re:

      Is it pay-per-word or per-comment?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Personaongrata, 19 May 2017 @ 4:09pm

    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 wikipedia.com 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]

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Defense_Authorization_Act_for_Fiscal_Year_2013

    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?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 May 2017 @ 8:26pm

    The only propaganda here is TD spewing out unverified and non-tangible evidence.

    I used to like this site, but then they went full retard.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 May 2017 @ 8:29pm

      Re:

      Watch, I can make a post here claiming that TD is a bunch of Russian spies:

      Random text from random troll: Give me rubles or we will close your hentai account.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jewrey, 20 May 2017 @ 5:23am

    Todays Ukraine is severely aligned with neo-nazis

    And U.S. fiancial aid to these neo-nazis is akin calling Iran the biggest sponsor of terrorism (ahem ahem, it's actually the USA itself the biggest covert sponsor of covert terrorism on Earth).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 20 May 2017 @ 5:57am

    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?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Nope, 20 May 2017 @ 11:59am

    Karma

    What's interesting, Ukrainians started it first... Russians just eventually copied it: https://twitter.com/MustLiveUA/status/865989929301680128

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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