David Papp Blog

The gadgets that spy on your phone – and you

It’s no secret that many governments have been keeping tabs on their citizens through controversial surveillance methods. Different agencies shell out millions of dollars on complex machines developed by tech companies – and with customers this demanding and lots of money, it’s no wonder why this particular sector of the tech industry is booming.

Take Harris Corporation, for example. For the past couple of years, it has sold a wide range of clandestine mobile phone surveillance technologies to different government agencies (which, yes, includes the National Security Agency). According to ArsTechnica.com, the company has earned over $40 million since 2004, all thanks to spy technology sales.

Here are some of the surveillance gadgets that have been used in the country over the decade.

  1. The Stingray
    This box-shaped portable device known as the Stingray is the most popular among spy tools that have been used by the government. The gadget is capable of collecting over a hundred unique phone-identifying codes within a targeted radius by sending a signal that tricks mobile phones into connecting to it. It sounds simple enough, but the Stingray can be used for other means. Add-ons such as “FishHawk” allow you to eavesdrop on conversations, while “Porpoise” can be used to put text messages under close watch. Agencies such as the DEA, Secret Service, the FBI, and the DEA have been known to purchase the Stingray and other related equipment.

  2. The Hailstorm

    One of Harris Corporation’s latest offerings in mobile phone tracking, the Hailstorm’s full capabilities are still unknown to the general public. What we know is that you can use it as an add-on to the Stingray, and it can also be bought as a standalone unit. Several police departments were reported to have entered separate procurement processes to obtain the device.

  3. The Triggerfish
    Authorities use this nifty device for eavesdropping and intercepting conversations – in real time! The Triggerfish can also be used to locate where a phone call is being made and to gather loads of information over a specified area. According to marketing materials, it’s capable of identifying over 60,000 different phone-identifying codes at one time. Agencies such as the DEA and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives have invested in this spying tool.
  4. The Harpoon
    Use the Harpoon with a Stingray and it’ll boost its signal, allowing the Stingray to project its signal and gather more data from a greater distance. The device can also be used with other mobile phone surveillance technologies through numerous inputs that adorn the front of the tool.
  5. The Amberjack
    Armed with a direction-finding system, the Amberjack can locate a subject through monitoring a phone’s signal strength. The gadget, which is circular in shape, is designed for covert operations. You can easily attach this to any surface (such as the roof of a vehicle) through its inbuilt magnets. Like the other tools, the Amberjack can be used with the Stingray. The technology has been purchased by several sectors of the government such as the DEA, the Special Operations Command, and the Secret Service.

18 thoughts on “The gadgets that spy on your phone – and you”

  1. I think with the whole NSA debacle, we’re all a tad scared of what’s going to happen nowadays. I’ve never really doubted that governments have at least a LITTLE BIT of our information, but seeing devices like these makes it very real.

    • With all the recent findings on how much governments are spying their citizens I’d have to say ”little bit” is a grave understatement. My guess would be that they probably know us better than we do. Personal data is now a days considered to be just another product ready to be sold to anyone interested.

    • I had the NSA scandal in mind when I wrote my first comment, but I was a bit more conservative about it 😉 Until now, of course! The threat didn’t feel so real until I read on here about the tools used by the government to spy on people!

      Rather scary when you read all the details about the devices used to do this, makes you wonder… what if they are also spying me? I have nothing to hide, but still… it’s kinda worrisome to live in a society where you can keep even your most intimate secrets a secret. It kinda makes me think of a dystopian government…

  2. Big Brother is watching us! I bet the gadgets David has described are only a fraction of the ways in which they keep track on us.

  3. It’s amazing stuff. Every few years I watch another James Bond film, and think it’s a bit irrelevant since World War II and the cold war is over. But insights like this from Harris Corporation et al. make me think that James Bond may even be a little outdated!

  4. Woah, it is kinda scary when you think about it…that company has made 40 million since 2004! One would think that the government must be working very hard to catch the bad guys, and that if you are a good citizen you have nothing to fear, but when you see the figures and read this kind of articles… it does really make you wonder!

    I’m guessing not only the bad ones are being spied on, I bet also some normal citizens too, specially those who seem to be a little suspicious to our government. I bet a lot activists, for example, are spied on by our government as well. Scary…

  5. This is all very scary to hear about. It’s so insidious how our privacy is disregarded for the supposed “greater good”. What is there for us normal citizens to do about this anyways? And how is all this legal???

  6. If you think these things just came out of the assembly line, think again. Today you can do half of what these things do just with GPS. Scramblers, de-scramblers, and signal amplifiers have been around since the invention of the cell phone. These new iterations must be the cream of the crop however. What’s really scary to me is that now that people know that these things are out there, no one is still trying to regulate them.

  7. All these devices are obviously legal for the government to use following the correct procedures. Is it also legal for companies or individuals to possess these devices? Tapping phone conversations and the like is illegal, but this doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen by non government organisations, or even illegally by government ones. Nice to know what capabilities are out there and who they are used by. Good article!

  8. I believe that using mobile devices to receive information from consumers is wrong. However, what can we really do? As the buyer, we have to be weary of these things. When buying a smart phone, just know that it can be monitored by the government.

  9. Wow, this is pretty goddamn scary, specially the stingray is frightening.

    I knew that the government was surveilling everyone, but I had no idea to which extend it was being used, really puts things into perspective seeing these items listed

  10. Ignorance is bliss in this situation for me. If you don’t have anything to hide then you don’t have to worry about this kind of stuff, right? I’m aware that we are being watched, but I’m sure that anyone listening in on me and my conversations would fall asleep. 🙂

  11. Government surveillance is getting scary. We’re giving up too many of our freedoms for the illusion of security and safety.

  12. I am always in two minds about this kind of technology as it can be used for good as well as harm. If a relative of mine went missing and any technology could be used to locate them I would hope it would be used and if there was a problem with some criminal activity affecting anyone, again, I would not be so against the technology, however the diffculty is that some things and attitudes change over time. If you were a “Red” in the fifties or sixties, attitudes were very different to know, or if you had an alternative sexual persuasion.

    Yours is both an interesting and a frightening list.

    Perhaps it is not so much that these devices exist as that they are used in a clandestine way. If the police use them as routine, then they should make that public, and so on.

    Perhaps when a phone is sold it should have to declare all the software on the phone. Until we can find ut what and who is watching us, then I think it is best to e a little guarded. I have nothing to fear, but years ago, an Uncle of mine visited Russia, way back when phones did not exist and all he was doing was to give a lecture. He stayed in a large hotel. He said it had piped music and he wanted to record it. (Not sure wo or how he said it too, but tape recorders were the big thing back then.) The music went off immediately and no way could he get that music back when he asked.

    Countries do watch individuals for the oddest of reasons and I do think we need to be aware that what we put onto technology could be misinterpreted. You only have to say the wrong thing and it might be taken out of context.

    You only have to be thought to be the person they are looking for and they can follow you and with smartphones and the Internet and so on it is all becoming too easy to see a real move towards a BIg Brother World, let alone state.

    They are probably watching you!

  13. How do they get the branding for all of those tools. It’s so bizarre to hear the names and read about what these spy tools do. In general we all know that spying is bad, but it is actually bad for business, not for individuals. What I cannot seem to figure out is if it is bad for business, why aren’t businesses doing something about the spying.

  14. This is a very interesting article. I haven’t heard about any of these “gadgets” that can track/record your info. It’s also pretty amazing that we still don’t know what exactly can they do.

  15. This is quite scary when you’re one of those people being targeted. People aren’t secure, privacy is not a right when you’re a victim of this. You are pretty much dead. If there are only a couple for mobiles, there will be a lot more for mobiles.

  16. This is actually really scary, but sadly, it doesn’t surprise me anymore, lol. We own so many technological devices that it seems almost impossible that they aren’t watching us… okay, that sounded really paranoid, but it’s kind of true, though… technology can be a double weapon, and it’s also a great chance to detect threads for the citizens, I guess.

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