Sign in with
Sign up | Sign in

German Police Used 440K+ Stealth SMS to Track Suspects

By - Source: F-Secure | B 22 comments

German police reportedly use a technology called silent SMS to track down crime suspects.

According to a presentation given at the 28th Chaos Communication Congress in Berlin, Germany, 440,783 such "stealth" messages were sent by federal police authorities as well as the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, Germany's equivalent of the FBI, in 2010. According to Heise Online, Germany's customs have picked up silent SMS as a tracking method, which is likely to result in a substantial increase in the use the technology. The customs alone sent 227,587 silent SMS in the first half of 2011.

German authorities apparently use silent SMS to create a movement profile of suspects or locate their position. SMS pings are received by a cellphone, but the user will not be notified of it. However, the cellphone carrier will record the data in a log, which can be requested by the government. While the data do not provide information about the phone, they do deliver location data via the cell towers that were used when the silent SMS was sent.

Discuss
Display all 22 comments.
This thread is closed for comments
Top Comments
  • 12 Hide
    Anonymous , January 4, 2012 6:59 AM
    alyoshka, you're so right man, i'm with you 100%. actually, i think we should take it a step further and volunteer to be tracked. just have them implant a gps into us like one of those red tags they put on the ears of cattle. i mean, how awesome would that be, amiright?

    better yet, let's spread our buttcheeks and let the ole guv have at. i mean why not right? enough of this low level penny-ante, garbage. time to get hardcore and take it to the next level. i mean, we're all gamers here right? let's see who can get to level 99 gov'ment bitch first.

    ready set go
Other Comments
  • 4 Hide
    joytech22 , January 4, 2012 5:14 AM
    What if the criminal purchased one of those $29 phones and grabbed a $2 sim card from a "Join Vodafone" bin and only him and his contact knew the number?

    Or did I just give thief's a new way to get around this... Because with the combo above, it's not like they could magically find the new number your using. It's not even registered to a name.
  • 3 Hide
    joytech22 , January 4, 2012 5:21 AM
    Well they could find the number but it wouldn't be easy if he kept doing the swap as mentioned above.
  • 6 Hide
    ko2n777 , January 4, 2012 5:24 AM
    joytech22What if the criminal purchased one of those $29 phones and grabbed a $2 sim card from a "Join Vodafone" bin and only him and his contact knew the number?Or did I just give thief's a new way to get around this... Because with the combo above, it's not like they could magically find the new number your using. It's not even registered to a name.


    They have to have the number or the name first. They aren't just going to catch people out of thin air. But my question is, if the German authorities are using this sort of technology, if you can call it that, then how long has our government been using it? We would never know. Kind of a scary thought.
  • 12 Hide
    Anonymous , January 4, 2012 6:59 AM
    alyoshka, you're so right man, i'm with you 100%. actually, i think we should take it a step further and volunteer to be tracked. just have them implant a gps into us like one of those red tags they put on the ears of cattle. i mean, how awesome would that be, amiright?

    better yet, let's spread our buttcheeks and let the ole guv have at. i mean why not right? enough of this low level penny-ante, garbage. time to get hardcore and take it to the next level. i mean, we're all gamers here right? let's see who can get to level 99 gov'ment bitch first.

    ready set go
  • 1 Hide
    Goldengoose , January 4, 2012 7:24 AM
    This is scary stuff really. If the gov have this technology then who else has it?
    For example imagine if Google had it? Taking advertisement tracking to a whole new level - track what shops you go to and in what order during the xmas shopping season.
  • -3 Hide
    alidan , January 4, 2012 7:37 AM
    joytech22What if the criminal purchased one of those $29 phones and grabbed a $2 sim card from a "Join Vodafone" bin and only him and his contact knew the number?Or did I just give thief's a new way to get around this... Because with the combo above, it's not like they could magically find the new number your using. It's not even registered to a name.


    you didn't give them an idea, the way you can tell a drug dealer from a normal person without finding any drugs on them is by how many phones they possess. Personally I have a few different phone numbers, one for friends one for family one for work and one for miscellaneous. That's outside the one in my car dedicated just for emergencies. The folder only like $20 each they can each have their own number and if I want to talk to one group of people I could just leave their phone at home. I honestly see no use in having full on the smart phones if all you want is a phone.

    ko2n777They have to have the number or the name first. They aren't just going to catch people out of thin air. But my question is, if the German authorities are using this sort of technology, if you can call it that, then how long has our government been using it? We would never know. Kind of a scary thought.


    people who think it's a scary thought are the kind of people with something to hide. I mean yeah he gets spied on constantly because of drugs and crap like that where the government thinks we might be doing something illegal and spies on us, I believe a few years back there was someone on heavy painkillers to his prescribed by his doctor those painkillers and was supposed to take that many painkillers but the government decided no there is no reason for someone to take that many of him in prison. Really if you think the government is that the tracking 24 hours a day every day of your life you're insane. They don't have the resources and there are a bureaucracy.

    alyoshkaI really don't think I'd mind the govt know where I am most of the time. It's like if you ain't go nothing to hide , why so worried? Yeah, I'd be petrified if an ex gf stalker got her hands on such tech..... or if the whereabouts of anyone leaked out into the open......


    let's say you make a six-figure income and for some reason you go through the bad part of town, not to get anything just you went to the bad part of town for some reason that's not illegal. while police are automatically going to assume you're there for drugs or a prostitute, and their most likely been tracking for a while. Depending on how frustrated they get they might drop the investigation or press some charges that are probably never be way out there. Like in the case I mentioned above the state of his house for three months looking to see if he was selling the drugs because he had so many, after they couldn't find anyone he was selling to (and he wasn't) they charged him with being a drug addict for taking his prescription medication as he was supposed.

    This is just an example but there are some reasons to legitimately fear it, but these are so far and few between that it's not worth worrying about.

    Lv99GuvmentBitchalyoshka, you're so right man, i'm with you 100%. actually, i think we should take it a step further and volunteer to be tracked. just have them implant a gps into us like one of those red tags they put on the ears of cattle. i mean, how awesome would that be, amiright?better yet, let's spread our buttcheeks and let the ole guv have at. i mean why not right? enough of this low level penny-ante, garbage. time to get hardcore and take it to the next level. i mean, we're all gamers here right? let's see who can get to level 99 gov'ment bitch first.ready set go


    I don't think we should volunteer for it, but tech like this is far less likely to be abused than others had already been out for while.
  • 2 Hide
    mrmaia , January 4, 2012 8:03 AM
    First, Carrier IQ. Now, Silent SMS. What after?
  • 2 Hide
    tulx , January 4, 2012 8:44 AM
    joytech22 did I just give thief's a new way to get around this... Because with the combo above, it's not like they could magically find the new number your using. It's not even registered to a name.


    Don't worry. I'm sure everyone has already seen the Borne films.
  • 5 Hide
    lashabane , January 4, 2012 8:55 AM
    alyoshkaI really don't think I'd mind the govt know where I am most of the time. It's like if you ain't go nothing to hide , why so worried? Yeah, I'd be petrified if an ex gf stalker got her hands on such tech..... or if the whereabouts of anyone leaked out into the open......

    just wait until lawmakers decide that some aspect of your life is against the law.
  • 3 Hide
    zybch , January 4, 2012 9:17 AM
    GoldengooseThis is scary stuff really. If the gov have this technology then who else has it? For example imagine if Google had it? Taking advertisement tracking to a whole new level - track what shops you go to and in what order during the xmas shopping season.

    You can bet your bottom dollar that google DO have it (or an equivalent). Besides, the phone companies have the 'ping' info your phone sends out many times each day, the authorities can just access that.
    In the US its known as a Pen Registry and all the feds have to do is pay a tiny fee to the telcos and they can access a history of your location and other things you did with the phone including SMSs, calls etc.
  • 0 Hide
    silverliquicity , January 4, 2012 11:13 AM
    A certain movie comes to mind when reading this, "transporter". All we would need is an endless supply of cheap Nokia's that magically appear in our glove compartment every time we need to make a call.
  • -2 Hide
    nebun , January 4, 2012 12:09 PM
    what they really need to do is to fire everyone in that store....obviously they had the credentials to change the settings....kids these days....how do people survive in the civilian world?....it boggles my mind
  • 0 Hide
    nebun , January 4, 2012 12:10 PM
    nebunwhat they really need to do is to fire everyone in that store....obviously they had the credentials to change the settings....kids these days....how do people survive in the civilian world?....it boggles my mind


    wrong article...tabbed browsing :) 
  • 2 Hide
    nebun , January 4, 2012 12:13 PM
    is this legal?...isn't this is invasion of privacy....don't they need a warrant to do this?
  • 2 Hide
    freggo , January 4, 2012 12:37 PM
    Seems to be a rather low tech approach. Simply mandate GPS receivers in all phones and log the GPS data for a given amount of time. Than, if necessary, get a warrant for a given set of GPS data. I mean, if you want to be snooping, at least use the latest technology that's in place where you can get precise location fixes and not just a 'cell tower' location.

    In the meantime 'we, the people' will think about a way to circumvent this approach too :-)

  • 0 Hide
    SlitelyOff , January 4, 2012 12:54 PM
    For those who think that having several phones will help, all they have to do is look for any phones that have been in the area of your house and then track those numbers. So I can look for all locations of phone A, or I can look for all phones that have been at location B and track those. Sure a little more work for them but not impossible.
  • 0 Hide
    Camikazi , January 4, 2012 1:01 PM
    mrmaiaFirst, Carrier IQ. Now, Silent SMS. What after?

    Stealth Phone Remote Control, imagine VNC to your phone with no way of you knowing they were watching :) 
  • 0 Hide
    rawful , January 4, 2012 2:15 PM
    CamikaziStealth Phone Remote Control, imagine VNC to your phone with no way of you knowing they were watching


    They can already do that. They are able to turn on your phone and listen to what your microphone picks up, or see what your phone's camera can see. This is never a good idea. We can NOT give up our rights or freedoms for "security."
  • 1 Hide
    shamino , January 4, 2012 2:34 PM
    There's nothing new here. Any phone, when connected to the network, can be tracked by the carrier. That's how cell phones work. When someone calls you, they don't broadcast the "ring" signal across the entire planet so see who picks up. The network knows what tower you're in range of and sends your data directly there.

    These SMS messages don't give them any new abilities. Law enforcement could always get a warrant to go through a telco's log files and determine what towers you were connected to at any particular time. The use of these stealth SMS messages simply makes it a little easier, because the existing SMS framework already logs source and destinations of text messages, so they can use those logs and not have to perform a thorough analysis of low-level connection data logs.
Display more comments
Tom’s guide in the world
  • Germany
  • France
  • Italy
  • Ireland
  • UK
Follow Tom’s guide
Subscribe to our newsletter