Suspicions mount of massive cell phone hack targeting D.C. officials


Throughout Washington D.C., suspicions continue to mount surrounding the possible hacking of cell phones owned by U.S. government officials and foreign diplomats.

According to documents obtained by the Washington Free Beacon, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is monitoring a reported spike and an “unusual amount of highly suspicious cell phone activity” involving a popular U.S. cellular service in the D.C. area, fueling concerns that cell phones are being tracked or that the affected devices used by both civilians and government officials are being cloned.

Mass amounts of location data appear to have been siphoned off by a third party who may have control of entire cell phone towers in the area, according to information was compiled by a program that monitors cell towers for anomalies supported by DHS and ESD America and known as ESD Overwatch, reports Free Beacon.

Furthermore, the documents indicate anomalies within the region that suggest an outside entity could be tracking a large number of cellphones, which is often the case when attempting to clone phones, introduce malware for spying, and monitor government phones being used by officials in the area, says the report.

“The attack was first seen in D.C. but was later seen on other sensors across the USA,” according to one source familiar with the situation. “A sensor located close to the White House and another over near the Pentagon have been part of those that have seen this tracking.”

Additionally, the data gathered by ESD Overwatch shows that the unnamed U.S. cellular carrier has experienced “unlawful access to their network for the purpose of large-scale subscriber tracking.” There has also been a massive spike in efforts to identify and track cell phones. To make matter worse, the hacker is said to be “identifying phones as they connect with local cellphone towers and recording this information.”

One source closely monitoring the situation claimed the cellular network involved is being abused in order to gain access in order to track the phones subscribed to the carrier.

The DHS’s Office of Public Affairs told the Free Beacon that the ESD Overwatch program has only been active since Jan. 18 and is currently operating under a 90-day pilot program, which seeks to detect these types of large-scale intrusions.

The parties responsible for the alleged attacks have not been uncovered, though some media outlets suggest that the level of sophistication could point to a foreign entity.

This situation occurs amid increasing concerns about the issue of cell phone vulnerabilities and the government not adequately taking necessary steps to secure cellular networks. On Wednesday, lawmakers wrote to the DHS to petition for the government to take added steps to protect the United States from such attacks by foreign governments.

“For several years, cyber security experts have repeatedly warned that U.S. cellular communications networks are vulnerable to surveillance by foreign governments, hackers, and criminals exploiting vulnerabilities in Signaling System 7” which is used by cellular phones and text messaging applications, according to a letter sent by Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.) and Rep. Ted Lieu (D., Calif.).

“U.S. cellular phones can be tracked, tapped, and hacked—by adversaries thousands of miles away—through SS7-enabled surveillance,” the lawmakers wrote. “We are deeply concerned that the security of America’s telecommunications infrastructure is not getting the attention it deserves.”

H/T: Washington Free Beacon

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