[2017-03-20] NH Today – Tech Talk
Below is a rush transcript of this segment, it might contain errors.
Airing date: 03/20/2017
Are Our Phones Safe from Spying – What is Happening in Washington DC with Phone Taps?
Craig Peterson: With all of the politics going on in Washington DC this week, Jack and I talked about something that’s rather interesting. What is happening in Washington DC with the cell phones, with the data, with the hacking? He asks me about President Trump and whether or not Trump Tower was really hacked, with Comey appearing this week in front of congress.
Jack Heath: And joining us now on the Auto Fair listener lines. Our regular contributor. And he has an interesting one. Very timely this morning with the discussion on before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill later today on intel and surveillance. Craig Peterson, host of Tech Talk joining us now in the Auto Fair listener lines. Craig, a lot of the increased cellular phone activity in Washington DC. What’s going on?
Craig: Yeah this is interesting. About a year ago, I reported on a problem in DC where there had been calls routed through Russia. And all of these problems go back to a vulnerability in our phone systems here in the US. The routing that occurs when you place a call to me, for instance Jack, it goes to a cell tower. We know that we have the FBI and others who are intercepting cell phone signals. We also have found fake cell towers down in Washington DC, but it gets routed from you to me and has to hop through, you know, towers and then back end routing switches. There’s a protocol called SS7. Well there are some major vulnerabilities in it because this system, the phone system in the United States was set up with trust in mind. So you trust me. I trust you. We’re going to pass phone calls back and forth. You know, I’m T-Mobile and you’re Verizon for instance. And we’re going to trust each other and we’re going to run the bill and everything will be great. But the problem is that hackers including foreign states like Russia, for instance, can get into our phone systems. It’s already been proven. They’ve already done it. And route the calls through Moscow. And basically convince the phone systems, your mobile phones, that the quickest way to call the White House is through Moscow. And then of course once it’s in Russia, they’re recording and who knows what they’re doing with it.
Well now we’re seeing one cellular carrier down in Washington DC, and it’s rumored that it’s T-Mobile but that hasn’t been confirmed yet, but one major cell carrier down in Washington DC has been showing an unusual amount of data on their networks that seems to be going to places that it shouldn’t be going.
Jack: Is it right or is it around the FBI building?
Craig: Yes actually that’s one of them. The Pentagon is another one.
Jack: Wow. I was totally just stabbing in the dark there Craig.
Craig: Well, you’re right. You’re absolutely right Jack. That’s a good guess. But they’re gathering. They’re getting location information. They’re getting information about what’s the phones are so that they can track them. We’re not quite sure where it’s going right now. But the good thing, the good news about all of this is finally here, right about when Trump took office, a new program was put in place and that program allows the federal government to monitor the cell phone system and phone system to see if there’s unusual activity. And you had mentioned that we’ve got now the Department of Homeland Security involved. They’re the ones that notice this, saying wait a minute. Where’s this location data going? What’s going on here? Someone seems to be monitoring these phones. At least we noticed it. Who knows how long it’s been going on? We’ve only had those sensors in place now for a matter of what, about 2 months?
Jack: Now here’s my question on that. It’s kind of a two-part question. It’s one, when GSM technology, it’s one of the biggest things. Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T. It’s all GSM technology now. GSM is used throughout the entire world. What makes ours so vulnerable compared to other countries?
Craig: It’s the back-end switching. And by the way the other countries have the same vulnerabilities because they use our switching. So it’s not the GSM itself. For instance, we know from the CIA document that we just got that they have been unable to break the encryption on most phones in most phone conversations. So what do they do? They break into the phone before it’s encrypted. So the GSM which uses encryption on your voice as it goes to the tower seem to be relatively secure here. But the problem is once it hits the tower and gets into the switching network, this SS7 switching network, I remember working with the stuff 20 years ago. Working on some of the code on some of the routing that is in used today still after all of these years. Of course they’ve made updates to it. They fixed it. They added more cellular support. But this is another example of the problem with our infrastructure. An aging infrastructure that hasn’t been updated. That finally, finally were starting to pay attention to and then that’s a good thing.
Jack: Well that’s one thing you look at to as you and I know and what a lot of people probably know that every cell phone relies on a landline still. It has to have a hard wire to jump from tower to tower to switch back and forth to go to the knock. My question on that is so do you think the vulnerability is in the old system with the actual hard lines of it? Or…
Craig: It is the switching part, you know. So a cell tower for instance, up here in our area. Comcast actually carries most of our voice data. So it goes to the cell tower. It then goes over fiber and it’s hauled by a third party in most cases. And then it gets to the switching units. And that’s when the problem arises because these switching units protocols are set up to say, okay who has this cell phone? I’m really simplifying this, who has this cell phone? Oh okay. Well it’s over here. So I need to run it over there. And then it asked that location who has this cell phone or who has this phone number? And that happens potentially multiple times until it ends up with the final destination, the final tower that knows where that cell phone is. In reality what can happen is you can poison a database quite easily. Just say, yes I know where that cell phone is. Send the data to me, which happens to be in Moscow. And so now it goes into Russia where they’re doing whatever. And then it sends it back to the US, and ultimately to the right tower.
Jack: And then with the new government standings that they have now where they can’t actually monitor this, is there any fear of Big Brother on this?
Craig: Well we already know Big Brother is doing not only monitoring but is capturing, in some cases, capturing all of the text messages. All of the voice calls from a particular cell. They’re using these fake cell towers in order to do that. So they’re already monitoring. There’s a substantial evidence that major carriers are feeding directly to the NSA. I’ve seen pictures of some of the equipment that’s alleged that the NSA has installed. So where Big Brother, they already got it. They’re already doing it. That’s a problem. You know we can trust our government, maybe, but I know I can’t trust foreign governments at all with some of this data. That’s why I start getting concerned. Now there’s another piece of good news here. Not just that the feds and Homeland Security have started monitoring some of the safety of, not just the phones networks and our privacy, but also the other pieces of infrastructure like our water, electricity, etcetera. But the phone companies realized that there is a big problem. Some other guys, you know I’ve been blowing the whistle on this for a decade that it would be a problem, some other guys are making big news about it in the last year. So they are addressing it. It will get fixed. And kind of like the CIA leak and the NSA leak. Now that we know those vulnerabilities exist they are going to get fixed. But in the meantime this GPS location data, other types of things, that’s a real concern. But what can we expect, we’re hacked by China and Russia. Heck, as President Trump said last week looking at Angela Merkel, yeah, some of us are being monitored.
Jack: Well, we know about this stuff. I mean, you know, we had Merkel accused us. Of course the stuff is going on and it’s not new by the way. Let me ask you this though, Craig. Today I might ask you to be totally political but as an analyst. But today will be the House Intelligence Committee. The FBI director’s going on Capitol Hill. No doubt they’ll talk about have you found anything sir? So it’ll go something like this, have you found anything sir that would support President Trump’s claim that there was wiretapping at Trump Tower before the election, yes or no? Mr. Comey: No. Do you know for a certain that there was no surveillance in any form at Trump Tower before the election. As best as I can say based on what I’ve seen, I’ve seen no warrants or any proof that would indicate that there was. Can you roll it out sir? There’ll be like a pause. I guess technically no, but I haven’t seen any to support it. That’s sort of how I think it’ll go with Comey. Let me ask you. With all this stuff and all the listening, do you think, Craig Peterson on your Tech Talk nonpartisan mind or hat, kind of like I’m a hat guy, I will probably plumbing and heating I’ll get that. But do you think there was any surveillance at all, even if it was indirect under the Obama administration from the former FBI Justice Department Intelligence Committee of anyone or anything at Trump Tower before the election?
Craig: Absolutely. We have to suspect that at least the phone calls with the Russians that apparently occurred at Trump Tower were monitored. Because it was with a third party government agent from another country. So at the very least, that. But there could be more.
Jack: You don’t know if there will probably not a smoking gun. Alright. I would see how the White House responds. Thank you Craig Peterson Tech Talk. Good stuff today. Good stuff Craig. Thank you.
Craig: Thanks. Take care.
Craig: Hey, I made an offer to everyone on my radio show this past weekend and I’m extending it to also all of you my podcast listeners. You know I really appreciate you guys. Appreciate you sharing the podcast. And here’s what the offer is, if you and I were sitting down on the couch, just chatting. Having a nice cup of coffee or maybe a beer. And as one of the listeners said maybe a glass of wine because she likes wine little bit better. Which is fine by me. If you and I were sitting down and we were chatting and you could ask me any 2 questions you’d like to ask, what would you ask? Now, you know I got a lot of background in security. You know I have a lot of background in computers and business and everything else. And you know I can answer any question, just you and me, what two questions would you like to ask me? I’d really appreciate your advice here. A couple of questions. Just emailing me, me@CraigPeterson.com. Or you can text me the questions as well if you have your cell phone available. Just open up your text app and dial in my direct number, 855-385-5553, with your two questions. Again, you get to ask me two questions, any two questions you’d like, what would those questions be? Just send it off, me@CraigPeterson.com. Take care. Have a great day.