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Old 05-19-2017, 03:46 PM
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Cool Russian Military Apparently Using Cell Tower Spoofers To Send Propaganda Directly To

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
By: TechDirt
RE: https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20...%28Techdirt%29


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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