If you look around the street furniture of your city, you may notice some ingenious attempts to disguise cell towers. There are fake trees, lamp posts with bulges, and plenty you won’t even be aware of concealed within commercial signage. The same people who are often the first to complain when they have no signal it seems do not want to be reminded how that signal reaches them. On a more sinister note, government agencies have been known to make use of fake cell towers of a different kind, those which impersonate legitimate towers in order to track and intercept communications.
In investigating the phenomenon of fake cells, [Julian Oliver] has brought together both strands by creating a fake cell tower hidden within an innocuous office printer. It catches the phones it finds within its range, and sends them a series of text messages that appear to be from someone the phone’s owner might know. It then prints out a transcript of the resulting text conversation along with all the identifying information it can harvest from the phone. As a prank it also periodically calls phones connected to it and plays them the Stevie Wonder classic I Just Called To Say I Love You.
In hardware terms the printer has been fitted with a Raspberry Pi 3, a BladeRF software-defined transceiver, and a pair of omnidirectional antennas which are concealed behind the toner cartridge hatch. Software comes via YateBTS, and [Julian] provides a significant amount of information about its configuration as well as a set of compiled binaries.
In one sense this project is a fun prank, yet on the other hand it demonstrates how accessible the technology now is to impersonate a cell tower and hijack passing phones. We’re afraid to speculate though as to the length of custodial sentence you might receive were you to be caught using one as a private individual.
We’ve considered the Stingray cell phone trackers before here at Hackaday, as well as looking at a couple of possible counter-measures. An app that uses a database of known towers to spot fakes, as well as a solution that relies on an SDR receiver to gather cell tower data from a neighbourhood.
[via Hacker News]
If you’re wondering how to get a better signal on your cellphone, or just want to set up your own private cell network, this one is for you. It’s a GSM base station made with a BeagleBone Black and a not too expensive software defined radio board.
The key component of this build is obviously the software defined radio. [Julian] is using a USRP B200 radio for this project. It’s not cheap, but it is a very nice piece of hardware capable of doing just about anything with GNU Radio. This board is controlled by a BeagleBone Black, a pretty cheap solution that puts the total cost of the hardware somewhere around $750.
The software side of the build is mostly handled by OpenBTS, the open source project for the software part of a cell station. This controls the transceiver, makes calls and SMS, and all the backend stuff every other cell station does. OpenBTS also includes support for Asterisk, the software of choice for PBX and VoIP setups. Running this allows you to make calls and send texts with your SDR-equipped, Internet-enabled BeagleBone Black anywhere on the planet.
[Timo] tipped us off about a War Monument that has been… upgraded. The story starts when a monument was erected in Cherkassy, Ukraine to commemorate the ultimate sacrifice that was made by Russian soldiers during World War II. The huge statue and expansive plaza were capped off by an eternal flame. Unfortunately, when the Soviet Block broke up, the natural gas that had been provided by the government became a luxury so the flame was extinguished.
The eternal flame sat unlit, a sad commentary to the remembrance of the dead. But how to fix this issue? As cell phone companies came into the area, a need for cell phone towers arose. At some point a solution was reached; a cell phone tower was built in the bowl of the eternal flame and then wrapped with an LED marquee. The marquee now displays the image of a flame in perpetuity.
We’re not quite sure what to think about this. After some adjustment, the substitution of LEDs for flames will probably become accepted. The monument is now providing a useful purpose for the living, and once again shows a flame. We think that having something there showing that the memory is still alive is much better than the message an unkempt derelict sends.