Roaming reveals subscriber location: How does your smartphone sell you?

Outdated Mobile Technologies Enable Global Phone Tracking, New Research Shows

New research conducted by Citizen Lab has revealed that outdated technologies used in roaming mobile phones allow for the tracking of phone owners’ locations on a global scale.

According to the study, the main vulnerability of the system lies in its flexibility, as information about a user’s location is transmitted by the network when moving from one cell tower to another in order to maintain a continuous connection. This flexibility, however, can be exploited to determine the location of an individual. Experts have noted that various entities, including special services, private intelligence firms, and even domestic state structures, frequently attempt to access location information.

The complexity of modern mobile networks offers numerous opportunities for hackers, with the IP Exchange (IPX) network being a major source of vulnerabilities. IPX is used by over 750 mobile networks in 195 countries for data exchange between mobile operators. Furthermore, telecommunication companies have the ability to sell and resell IPX access, further increasing the associated risks.

During their research, the Citizen Lab team documented several instances in which attempts were made to exploit the system for tracking purposes. In one case, a campaign was uncovered in Vietnam that tracked the location of African mobile users for a period of seven months. African telecommunication companies appear to be the primary targets of such surveillance activities.

Interestingly, the study also revealed that surveillance efforts originating from various countries, including India, Iceland, Sweden, Italy, and others, have been targeting the global cellular system. The report highlights the lack of strict security standards in global telecommunications and emphasizes the need for legal regulation.

While Western countries have long been concerned about surveillance threats posed by Chinese technologies, the rest of the world seems to have received less attention. The researchers concluded that although there is significant discourse on the inclusion of Huawei equipment in telecommunication networks, simply talking about it is insufficient to ensure the safety of non-Chinese equipment.

/Reports, release notes, official announcements.