A new secret U.S. surveillance program was disclosed in a Wall Street Journal’s report, the post published by the popular media agency reveals the use of bogus cell phone towers installed in airplanes to scan Americans’ cell phones and syphon their data.

The attack scheme is simple as effective, the tower signals are used to trick phones to automatically switch over to its signal. The technique is not new, law enforcement has already adopted this technology to spy on cellphoneStingRay is the name used to identify mobile units that are able to track users’ mobile devices.

“The boxes used by the program allow planes to pose as the nearest cell phone tower, which prompts cell phones under surveillance to disclose their location and identity information, even if a legitimate tower is closer than the plane overhead. The dirtboxes also have the ability to interrupt calls, though officials have reportedly tried to mitigate the harmful consequences of that function.” reported the Business Insider.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the technique was adopted by US law enforcement, the Justice Department used it to collect huge amount of data to use in its investigations.

Security and privacy experts are contrary to this “insanely broad airplane data dragnet” because it affects people all over the country.

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The program started in 2007 and U.S. Marshals used different aircrafts equipped with the spying technology, also referred as dirtboxes, to spy data from individuals on the entire US soil.

“The U.S. Marshals Service program, which became fully functional around 2007, operates Cessna aircraft from at least five metropolitan-area airports, with a flying range covering most of the U.S. population, according to people familiar with the program.

Planes are equipped with devices—some known as “dirtboxes” to law-enforcement officials because of the initials of the Boeing Co. unit that produces them—which mimic cell towers of large telecommunications firms and trick cellphones into reporting their unique registration information.”

The technology allows law enforcement to steal data from tens of thousands of cellphones in a single flight, collecting their identifying information and general location.

The case is making a lot of noise in the public opinion, another secret surveillance program is threatening US citizens. Recently another news raised many concerns in the security communities about the discovery of a series of bogus cell phone towers in the US used by unknowns for surveillance purpose.

In time I’m writing, The Justice Department hasn’t commented the news.

Stay tuned!

Pierluigi Paganini