Recent data provided to us by Anonymous shows a disturbing development. An unknown government agency has contracted with Verizon to build a vast network of Vipers. These fake cell towers can be utilized to intercept cellular signals, meaning that the voice calls, text messages, exact location, and other mobile data of private citizens can be tapped by Big Brother.
“We are currently tracking a government contract with Verizon to install Viper towers,” explains Sam, our contact within Anonymous. “These towers can and will be used to spy on law abiding American citizens.”
While Viper towers in and of themselves aren’t exactly new news, the sheer number of Viper towers now known to be in existence is a fresh revelation. As recently as 2014 it was thought that Viper usage was relatively limited. New data provided to us by Anonymous shows that the number of towers has increased exponentially over the past few years. Nevertheless, little to no information is available from the government as far as the technology’s full capacity or utilization.
Naturally, secrecy breeds suspicion. The government’s explanation for installing such devices typically revolves around security and communication concerns. For example, in this cached May, 2010 PDF which outlines the planned construction of a Viper tower in North Carolina, Viper Project Manager Tanya Luter lists the technological benefits of Vipers as follows:
- Increased RF coverage area for Federal, State, and local emergency first responders connected through the VIPER network
- Updated equipment to support new frequencies to improve and expand voice and data coverage
- Facilitate reliable interoperable communications among first responder organizations
- Enhanced security and facility control
And while heightened communication between law enforcement and first responders is all fine and dandy, it’s the misuse, abuse, or hijacking of said technology which has people concerned.
Business Insider states that, “If your phone connects to a fake cell tower, whoever operates the device can listen to your calls, intercept your text messages, and send fake text messages to your phone. It’s also possible to monitor and track the physical location of a mobile phone using a hacked cell tower, meaning that so-called “Interceptor” towers can be used to follow people as they travel in the area of the cell tower.”
Then in 2014, Rueters and Newsweek reported that around twenty Viper cell towers had been mapped by users of the CryptoPhone500. They concluded that, “In the wake of the militarized response by the police in Ferguson, Missouri to protesters, many are taking a closer look at how the government may be abetting law enforcement in surreptitious cell phone surveillance. The purchase of such equipment is often funded by Homeland Security grants for which state and local police departments can apply. The gradual uncovering of this paper trail reveals new details about surveillance technology use.”
While three years ago there may have only been a couple dozen Viper towers mapped out, today there are literally hundreds if not thousands in operation across the US. According to Sam, one of the most recent installations is a Viper being constructed at Herriman High School in Herriman, Utah. A Verizon tower, the Viper stands in the southwest corner of Salt Lake County, about five miles northwest of Bluffdale Data Center.
How does one protect oneself from government ears and eyes? We asked Sam for his advice, and he suggested installing an app that blocks repeaters.
“Install a mobile app such as Cell Spy Catcher,” suggests Sam. “All these spy towers operate as repeaters. This means that they emit a larger signal than a legitimate cell tower, thereby causing your phone to jump to it instead of the real cell tower. They capture your data and call information, and then repeat it to the real tower, leaving you none the wiser. This app, however, effectively detects and blocks all repeaters.”
While it is understandable that the government would want to listen in on calls and texts between terrorists, it is difficult to ethically justify monitoring Americans who have never committed any crime.
Cell Spy Catcher is available via Google Play and has 100,000 – 500,000 installs on Android. There is one minor downside to the app; it occasionally sends false alarms. Signal booster units are easily mistaken as repeaters, even though they aren’t spy units. If you see a signal blocked, particularly if you’re in a larger building where cell signals are often weak, don’t be overly alarmed. It’s more than likely a booster, and not a repeater. Thankfully, this issue has an easy workaround, as you have the option to whitelist any booster units known to be harmless.