Mobile phone tracking

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by KeepYourChinUp, Jun 19, 2014.

  1. KeepYourChinUp

    Thread Starter New Member

    Jun 18, 2014
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    I see this in the movies all the time. A criminal leaves his phone on and the FBI track the phone and arrest the criminal, all in a days work right?

    After doing some googling, I can find no device, civilian or otherwise that allows a mobile phone to be tracked. I imagine building a device that allows you to dial a phone number and when the person picks up the phone, the device triangulates the phones position and relays it to your device.

    How hard can it be?
     
  2. Lestraveled

    Well-Known Member

    May 19, 2014
    1,957
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    Where have you been? "They", can find your phone any time they want to. "They" can turn it on and listen to your conversations. "They" can take photos from your phone without you knowing. NOTHING is private if a cell phone is in the room.

    Mark
     
  3. KeepYourChinUp

    Thread Starter New Member

    Jun 18, 2014
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    I only ever said that I cannot find such a device. I'm well aware that such devices do exist and are used by government agencies all the time. My question was, how hard would it be to make your own cell phone tracker that can locate a cell phones location using gps?
     
  4. Sparky49

    Active Member

    Jul 16, 2011
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    The tracking of the position of mobile phones is common, though not for the purpose of espionage. See this computerphile video below:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1U7ROVno2ys&list=UU9-y-6csu5WGm29I7JiwpnA

    There are different ways a phone can be located. The first is, as above, via the radio waves used by the phone to send call data. Of course, depending on the hardware in the phone, gps can be used by the user to find out their position. If you could figure a way to get that data sent to you, you could find their position. You could install your own tracker 'bug', but this would be quite tricky to build and avoid detection.

    Of course, the advanced technology we see in the movies makes for a great show, but reality is much duller. In reality, we would have to see Mr Agent get all sorts of approvals to 'track' a device, and then it would probably be sent by the phone company, using data from the various ground stations to determine location (which is collected and used outside of clandestine activities). No fancy stuff is needed. You just need to get the phone company to send it to you. :)

    Sparky

    PS, a key thing to remember is that what we see in spy/military movies is purely fiction. Reality is much duller, with the vast majority of it involving warrants and paperwork, rather than any sort of high tech computery goodness. :)
     
    Last edited: Jun 19, 2014
    KeepYourChinUp likes this.
  5. KeepYourChinUp

    Thread Starter New Member

    Jun 18, 2014
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    Cheers for the post. Yeah I know a lot of the stuff we see in movies is either purely fiction or greatly over exaggerated but seeing as government agencies do have this ability, I thought it wouldn't be too hard for someone out there to made a device that does the same thing.
     
  6. Sparky49

    Active Member

    Jul 16, 2011
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    In terms of someone building something to do it independent of the phone company's tech... It would be really tricky and totally not worth the effort.

    My thinking is it would involve some sort of data sniffer, which could pick up any relevant data travelling between a station/device, but I'm not sure how often relevant data would be transmitted. If the processing with relevant data is done and used exclusively within the device and/or the phone company's machines, your chances are close to nil. I'm loathed to say impossible - there's always a way - but I doubt there are very many reasons to go to such trouble, especially when the people who need that data can probably get it from the company, which has it anyway.

    My point is that (I doubt) agencies have their own equipment. Why waste money (hehehe) on software and hardware when a piece of paper will oblige phone companies to give it to them?

    In conclusion, I guess it would be as tricky as creating your own phone company and having the suspect join your network. ;)

    Good question - good for thinking about. :)

    Sparky
     
  7. KeepYourChinUp

    Thread Starter New Member

    Jun 18, 2014
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    You raise a valid point but getting that information from a company takes time and a warrant must be approved. Imagine the scenario, a criminal is making ransom demands and the police need to know the location of said phone.

    So now the police have the contact the telephone company, get a warrant and then finally, perhaps 30 minutes later the phone can be tracked, by which point it's probably in the trash and the criminal has a new burner phone.

    I just thought that considering the type of technology that exists today, I didn't think it would be that difficult for FBI, CIA, NSA etc to just literally "run a trace" on the phone number and they'd get gps co-ordinates of the phones location.

    Don't phones have transponders in them anyway? Otherwise how do google maps and stuff work?
     
  8. Brownout

    Well-Known Member

    Jan 10, 2012
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    It's how they tracked the Boston Marathon bombers.
     
  9. Sparky49

    Active Member

    Jul 16, 2011
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    I'm not sure of the law in the US, but I'm pretty sure in the UK at least, they would require some sort of legal permission to track anyone. And yes, that does take time.

    What you must consider is how a phone can be located. As mentioned, phone companies use the signals a phone sends to their equipment to locate them. To outside users, data would appear as a garbled mess, because of the different location of 'clandestine' receivers. So that kind of rules that out.

    The other option is using any sort of positioning system built into the phone, GPS being one. However, if such information isn't being transmitted, then how does any external entity detect it?

    Stuff like Google Maps works by a GPS receiver on the phone calculating its position on the phone then overlaying that on some image downloaded via 3g or similar network. If the only external communication performed by the phone is to say "I want the image of New York", that only tells you so much. You would have to rely on the phone sending something like "I'm at position x, send me data", which I can't imagine would be terribly efficient. Therefore, I doubt phone manufacturers would bother implementing it.

    I guess a comparison could go along like imaging a computer totally isolated from any network representing the phone. I then look outside the window, and I can see a church tower, a fountain and the town hall, (GPS satellites), so I know I am on the High Street. I then type this onto my computer (Google maps). How does someone in the next town know I am on the high street?

    Sparky
     
  10. Sparky49

    Active Member

    Jul 16, 2011
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    With their own equipment acting in real time, or buy getting access to phone companies' resources?
     
  11. Sparky49

    Active Member

    Jul 16, 2011
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    I have conflicting stories, but it seems they were tracked down by Mercedes 'mbrace' technology (GPS based). The information (apparently) was relayed to police by Mercedes.

    My thinking is that tracking isn't impossible (it clearly isn't, and it is vital to how mobile phones work), but I question whether the majority of authorities (if at all), have access to their own equipment, or wether they are given it by the original manufacturers/companies.
     
  12. Brownout

    Well-Known Member

    Jan 10, 2012
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    According to Watertown law enforcement, they tracked the cell phone left in the car by the hi-jack victim. I believe Mercedes was contacted as well.
     
  13. Wendy

    Moderator

    Mar 24, 2008
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    Parents do this with their kids phones all the time. That is how I would look it up, or ask a sales man.
     
  14. Potato Pudding

    Well-Known Member

    Jun 11, 2010
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    Phone companies get so many "lookup this phone" requests from law enforcement (at least in the USA) that they have almost all automated the process. Most cloud service email providers and chat venues get similar treatment soon after they are recognized as a common communication forum. Even Online Games get enough snooping to warrant automation. Games are big with certain drug and criminal gangs.

    It is a snoop now and review the legal grounds later situation.

    There is also a device that works as a mobile base station and tries to poll for a contact with the target phone. Pretty much off the shelf stuff with role specific programming.
     
    Last edited: Jun 19, 2014
  15. loosewire

    AAC Fanatic!

    Apr 25, 2008
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    There is soft ware that acts as cell phone tower....that could be in car

    next to you reading your information.
     
  16. atferrari

    AAC Fanatic!

    Jan 6, 2004
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    Some years ago, Nextel, here in Argentina, offered a service to track your employees (of course carrrying one of their phones). IIRC the offer said that the info consisted of latitude / longitud values. Nowadays, just by sending a SMS to the number 562, you can get that data if the ohter phone belongs to the same "fleet" (google what a fleet is for Nextel).

    According to what I was explained, and not only for Nextel, the tracking starts by identifying which cell is/was serving the phone during the time interval of interest.
     
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2014
  17. KeepYourChinUp

    Thread Starter New Member

    Jun 18, 2014
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    Yeah we have the same service here in the UK. Many cycle curiours have fleet phones which can be tracked. I'm pretty sure if you called the police from your mobile phone and said "Help I'm dying" and then hung up, you'd have police at your door within 10 minutes and surely it takes longer than 10 minutes to get a warrant, contact the phone company etc.

    I'm quite certain they do have unrestricted access to phone companies and can literally just pull data from it when they need to.
     
  18. Brownout

    Well-Known Member

    Jan 10, 2012
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    If there is an emergency or a crime is being committed, and the phone company voluntarily cooperates, there is no need for a warrant.
     
  19. Sparky49

    Active Member

    Jul 16, 2011
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    Locating a device for an instance is very different than locating it for surveillance.

    Still, it seems to be phone companies' equipment which is used to determine location.
     
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