Surprise! IMSI-catcher detected All Over Defcon

The Def Con conference attracts security researchers and hackers as well. But, remember that security researchers are still hackers only they do no criminal activities with their skills. A security researcher recently discovered that there was an influx in IMSI-catchers in the Las Vegas area that hosted the conference last week. IMSI-catchers resemble cell towers; only their primary purpose is to collect data.

Surprise! IMSI-catcher detected All Over DefconHacking conferences are useful as they help organisations and application developers secure their products. But these conferences attract mischief, according to Geoffrey Vaughan, the security researcher who discovered the IMSI-catcher all over Def Con conference. Vaughan used an IMSI-catcher detector application to scan the area before and after the conference. The data from the scans is exhilarating.

Vaughan claims that he stayed in Vegas between 31st July and 7th August.  In that duration, he was split between Paris Hotel and near Augustus Tower at Caesar’s Palace. He did a lot of visiting and shopping together with his wife, and of course, he went to the Def Con conference that started on 4th July and concluded on 8th July.

The data from the scan indicate that there were only 8 GSM towers around that area before the conference. During the period the conference stretch, the scanner detected 38 GSM towers. It beats no logic that mobile couriers added all those towers in such a short duration.

Still, there are logical explanations to such an influx in the number of towers. Maybe there are several towers on different floors of a building, although such is a vague assumption. It is not overthought to assume that some of the additional towers were malicious GSM towers with IMSI-catching capabilities.

An IMSI-catcher, or Stingray, is a small machine with cell tower properties, which forces nearby mobile phones to connect. A sophisticated IMSI-catcher can do as much harm as obtaining SIM card unique identifier information or IMSI (international mobile subscriber identity). Stingrays can also intercept text messages from nearby phones. IMSI-catchers came into the market in 2010; they are in any ordinary hacker’s toolbox.

It makes sense that Vaughan’s research will conclude the cell towers were malicious IMSI catchers. A lot goes on in hacking conferences, which any hacker would not want to miss. Vaughan will complete his analysis soon. He is positive the study will confirm his assertions.

Vaughan mentioned that his IMSI-detection app picked so many GSM towers as he drove by shortly after the Def Con conference began. Being a security researcher, he did not fail to attend the Black Hat conference too, at least for a day, he said.