from the NSA-power-at-budget-prices! dept
Privacy International, which has done a very thorough job digging into the backgrounds of the many private companies involved in the surveillance "industry" around the world, has just released a promotional document from the American-Israeli Verint, a security company that provides NSA-level cell phone surveillance power to entities around the world.
[A] scaled down version of this system is also being sold by private surveillance contractors to the highest bidder. The company behind it? Israeli-American company Verint. Their Skylock technology claims to have the ability to "Remotely locate GSM and UMTS targets located anywhere in the world at cell level precision".The brochure Privacy Int'l obtained doesn't go into detail as to how it achieves this, but what is shown is both impressive and disturbing.
From a brochure collected this year we have discovered one of the newest additions to Verint's product line: mobile phone tracking on an international scale. Previously, mobile phone tracking required presence in the particular areas of interest, focusing on the tracking of phones through monitoring Base Stations (Cell Towers) and local networks to pinpoint location. In the past, if a law enforcement agency wanted location data they requested information from the relevant telecommunication firm operating in that specific territory. By way of an example, this would result in the UK not being able to obtain a French mobile phone’s location without help from the French. Now it would appear that Verint have bypassed the territoriality requirement.With this latest news, we know that location tracking has become borderless in the same way as communications surveillance. The ability to do this has likely come from a focus on international phone systems rather than domestic or regional networks which would never reach the worldwide nature of location tracking Verint is advertising.Some details on Verint's SKYLOCK offering are available online (under the name ENGAGE). While the brochure seems to indicate this is solely a military product (the brochure cover only lists "Military, Special Forces, Navy, Search and Rescue, Border Control" and the photos contained show only military personnel), the inside notes make it clear these products are available to "law enforcement" as well.
As Privacy Int'l points out, Verint's offering operates "independently of local service providers," meaning pretty much every legal obstacle is demolished. What no one knows is going on won't hurt them. One product is targeted at satellite communications, but even considering that limited scope, it's still very powerful.
Here's what ENGAGE/SKYLOCK can do:
- Intercept voice calls and text messagesOther ENGAGE products target wireless communications. Verint's intercept-in-a-box can do all of the following.
- Decrypt A5/1 and A5/2 encryptions with an embedded decipher
- Operate undetected leaving no electromagnetic signature
- Selectively downgrade UMTS traffic to GSM
- Actively and passively intercept WiFi communications based on: 802.11 a/b/g/n, 2.4Ghz, and 5GHzVerint also gives its purchasers the power to target phones using 3G networks, remotely activate cell phone mics, and block cellular communication.
- Active interception of mobile handsets, even when not intentionally connected to a WiFi network
- Intercept target communication at a distance with zero packet loss
- Choose from multiple active interception methods to overcome encryption of private communication
- Identify access points and intercept MAC addresses in the area
The capabilities that were presumed to only be in the hands of national intelligence agencies now can be had by nearly anyone who can come up with the money. Powerful cell phone surveillance products are a growth market. Anything that can increase data and communication harvesting while simultaneously eliminating a majority of legal restrictions and oversight practically sells itself.
We may feel this sort of power is OK in the "right hands," but we don't get to decide which hands this ends up in. We may believe the NSA should be able to do this sort of thing (overseas, preferably), but that local law enforcement agencies should be forced to jump through warrant and subpoena hoops before tracking locations and intercepting communications. But ultimately it doesn't matter what we prefer. That call is made by Verint and it's in the business of selling surveillance products, not protecting the privacy of the world's citizens.