A Washington, D.C. cell network has been hacked

The Free Beacon has another scoop today with a report about a Washington, D.C. cell network that has apparently been compromised in a way that would allow someone to monitor the location of phones or clone them:

A large spike in suspicious activity on a major U.S. cellular carrier has raised red flags in the Department of Homeland Security and prompted concerns that cellphones in the region are being tracked. Such activity could allow pernicious actors to clone devices and other mobile equipment used by civilians and government insiders, according to information obtained by the Free Beacon

Cell phone information gathered by the program shows major anomalies in the D.C.-area indicating that a third-party is tracking en-masse a large number of cellphones. Such a tactic could be used to clone phones, introduce malware to facilitate spying, and track government phones being used by officials in the area.

“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.”

The story goes on to say the attack on the network is ongoing. The identity of the group behind the attack is unknown but the Free Beacon notes the scale of the attack could indicate a foreign nation is involved. Buzzfeed has a follow-up report identifying the network in question as T-Mobile and offering a bit more detail on the type of attack:

Craig Young, the principal security researcher for the vulnerabilities and exposures research team at the cybersecurity firm Tripwire, told BuzzFeed News that the government should ensure that carriers are vigilant in monitoring what could be hugely invasive threats.

One of the most vulnerable points of telephone companies is the way they connect to one another. An exposed network known as SS7 could let an intruder secretly re-route calls so that a third party could listen in without the caller or their recipient knowing. “The end effect is that anybody can potentially go from having a phone number to intercepting your calls by exploiting SS7 weaknesses,” Young said.

Could some foreign actor have been cloning the phones of White House insiders and reading their messages or listening to their calls? That’s a pretty worrisome thought and the fact that cell towers near the White House and the Pentagon were involved suggest the interest here might indeed have been political.

While neither story speculates who might be behind this, in the current environment it’s hard to avoid thinking about our number one geopolitical foe, i.e. a nation which has demonstrated an interest in American politics over the past year. This seems like something the Trump administration should focus intensely on to determine who is responsible.

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