An excellent research at University of Minnesota has revealed that a mobile phone can be easily tracked by any third party hacker, without the knowledge of the user or the mobile carrier, through a small hacking trick. All it requires is a cheap mobile phone and an open-source software and this enables a hacker to know the location of a mobile user any time. How can this be accomplished is detailed below.
So this is how it works: Cell phone towers have to continuously keep tabs on the user and his location so that whenever the tower receives a call addressed to him, it could be immediately linked to his device. According to a member of the group carrying out the research,
“For example, an incoming voice call requires the network to locate that device so it can allocate the appropriate resources to handle the call. Your cell phone network has to at least loosely track your phone within large regions in order to make it easy to find it.”
When a call addresses to the user reaches the tower, the tower immediately broadcasts a page to the user’s phone and waits for him to respond. Now a hacker can gain access to this page and know the user’s location, hanging up before the phone rings.
By looking at these broadcast message, a user can be tracked to within an area of 100 square km. However, by testing the user on a single tower, his location can be tracked down to 1 square km which is very, very accurate.
This cheap usage can enable a whole lot of third-party groups to use, or misuse this ability to track down a user inexpensively. So the researchers who have carried out this research are now collaborating with the main carriers to somehow counter possible intruders.
Image courtesy ASurroca.