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Moscow Subway To Use Special Devices To Read Data On Passengers' Phones 163

Posted by Soulskill
from the they'll-know-how-much-time-you-waste-on-bejeweled dept.
dryriver writes "'The head of police for Moscow's subway system has said stations will soon be equipped with devices that can read the data on the mobile telephones of passengers. In the July 29 edition of Izvestia, Moscow Metro police chief Andrei Mokhov said the device would be used to help locate stolen mobile phones. Mokhov said the devices have a range of about 5 meters and can read the SIM card. If the card is on the list of stolen phones, the system automatically sends information to the police. The time and place of the alert can be matched to closed-circuit TV in stations. Izvestia reported that 'according to experts, the devices can be used more widely to follow all passengers without exception.' Mokhov said it was illegal to track a person without permission from the authorities, but that there was no law against tracking the property of a company, such as a SIM card.' What is this all about? Is it really about detecting stolen phones/SIM cards, or is that a convenient 'cover story' for eavesdropping on people's private smartphone data while they wait to ride the subway? Also — if this scheme goes ahead, how long will it be before the U.S., Europe and other territories employ devices that do this, too?"
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Moscow Subway To Use Special Devices To Read Data On Passengers' Phones

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  • Tin-foil... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 30, 2013 @05:28PM (#44429243)

    ...pockets. Coming to your next pair of pants.

    • Re:Tin-foil... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 30, 2013 @06:13PM (#44429657)

      Good luck with the reception in there though.

      What you need is a 100% passive system. Much like the radar in modern war planes / helicopters has a passive mode.

      Or, you know, storm the government, replace the assholes, etc. The only actual solution. But that would require *actually* doing something. As opposed to just protesting or bitching on-line.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Violent revolt sounds good and all in comics, but in reality, you're now stuck with a government headed by someone who, most likely, sees murder as a valid method to obtain what they want. History keeps a handy track record to see what result you can expect in the long run.
    • Re:Tin-foil... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Russ1642 (1087959) on Tuesday July 30, 2013 @09:47PM (#44431017)

      I have a steel business card case that I use as a wallet. The readers commonly used on door locks in office buildings have no problem reading my cards through the case.

    • by epSos-de (2741969)
      To their defense, the Russian police actually does locate stolen phones. The German police does spy on us, but never gives us the location of our stolen or lost phones, because they say that it is not their job. In reality, all of the governments use this kind of surveillance tech, but only Russia is OK to provide it openly to the real people on the street. There are a lot of things that the RUSS government does very badly, but some they do much better then the hypocritical governments in the west. The g
  • note to self: When visiting Moscow, pack mylar bags.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The Return of Soviet Russia
    http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xyfjp3_simpsons-return-of-the-soviet-union_fun

    • Yep. This time they're going to do it right and use the US as a model. Technology, technology, technology!
  • What if the phone is turned off , or if the battery was removed ?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Also, why the fuck would anyone be using the sim that came with the stolen phone? If I were to steal a phone, the first thing I would do would be to toss the sim into the nearest garbage or storm drain or whatnot, and put a new one in. It's not like they're expensive or hard to get. Where I'm from I can get a sim for €10 with €10 credit. So, effectively, it's free.

      • by icebike (68054) on Tuesday July 30, 2013 @06:43PM (#44429865)

        Also, why the fuck would anyone be using the sim that came with the stolen phone? If I were to steal a phone, the first thing I would do would be to toss the sim into the nearest garbage or storm drain or whatnot, and put a new one in. It's not like they're expensive or hard to get. Where I'm from I can get a sim for €10 with €10 credit. So, effectively, it's free.

        Exactly.
        And the headlines are also misleading. The technology can read your phone's sim number (which is broadcast to the towers anyway), but there is nothing in the article that indicates it can read ANY data stored on the phone. Nobody stores even their contacts on a sim anymore, so all they get is the sim number (IMSI), and maybe your phones IMEI.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Which is enough to track your movements which is what this tech is really about.

          • by rtb61 (674572)

            It is enough to track the sim cards movement, not your movement. Pre-paid is a good example of discreet movement. It is looking pretty much like the first thing you should really start considering with a smart phone, is when off and means 'OFF', so you only switch it on when you want to use it or when you specifically want to answer calls. As for tracking your movement, how many smart phones have gps and how readily can that be hacked, activated and broadcast.

            So a shift in social consciousness with regar

        • IMEI is definitely transmitted ; in the UK we have a database of IMEI numbers that are blocked, across all carriers. Phones reported stolen are very shortly unusable - I've had it happen to me on a false positive once (the checksumming in the IMEI standard is crap). Which is why I've not heard any anecdotes of people having their phone stolen for years.

      • by temcat (873475)

        The answer is that stolen or lost SIM cards are not tied to your identity. In Russia, when you buy a SIM card, most of the time you have to present your passport, and your identity data are recorded.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The "special device" is basically a very small portable cell tower (at least to the extent that the phone will connect to it and identify itself), presumably with a highly directional antenna. Removing the battery is probably fine. Turning the phone off is probably fine unless you're highly paranoid.

      • by icebike (68054)

        The "special device" is basically a very small portable cell tower (at least to the extent that the phone will connect to it and identify itself), presumably with a highly directional antenna. Removing the battery is probably fine. Turning the phone off is probably fine unless you're highly paranoid.

        Exactly, except the phone doesn't have to actually connect to that tiny cell, in fact it can be complete passive.. The cell station can read your IMEI off of any transmission your phone does in response to normal cell towers. Your phone checks in with the towers every 4.615 ms, so listening to these packets should be very precise with a very directional antenna.

        Tracking stolen phones? Come on. Its more like a license plate reader, and I suspect this technology is already in use in many countries.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    How is this any different from license plate readers tracking where your car goes? Sure it takes special equipment to read your SIM, that takes a special camera. This is public information. Just because you cannot read it with your eyes doesn't make it public. (If you phone happens to answer anyone that asks for it's identity that is public)

    It might recover a few phones, it also lets the operator of the device know where everyone is.

    As for this being done elsewhere, who says it isn't being done? It is

    • by icebike (68054)

      How is this any different from license plate readers tracking where your car goes?

      Its quite possible that Plate readers also read every cell phone in the car, because they are always broadcasting their IMEI and IMSI every few milliseconds. A simple directional receive only antenna is all that is needed.

  • "The head of police for Moscow's subway system..."

    He knows NOTHING about technology, but wants to make decisions about it.

    As someone said above, electromagnetic signals can be stopped by wrapping a phone with aluminum foil. People would not be able to use their phones on the subway, which is probably not possible anyway unless antennas have been installed in the tunnels.
    • Slahdot mobile has broken again. No way to copy text on an iPhone, no quote button

      To answer your points. Much of mpscows subway has 4g (and aircon) underground. The bbc did a live broadcast with a live-u a couple of months ago.

      Your main point though, People do not wrap their phones in tinfoil.

      • by Threni (635302)

        Slashdot mobile is a crock of shit. What's that read icon at the top left with the 1 in it? I click on it and I get a random selection of messages going back a year. The box containing them doesn't fit on the page, so I scroll the page and immediately the box vanishes. What a joke.

      • "People do not wrap their phones in tinfoil."

        Obviously, they can, and that prevents the usefulness of that method of spying.
    • by jd2112 (1535857)

      "The head of police for Moscow's subway system..." He knows NOTHING about technology, but wants to make decisions about it. As someone said above, electromagnetic signals can be stopped by wrapping a phone with aluminum foil. People would not be able to use their phones on the subway, which is probably not possible anyway unless antennas have been installed in the tunnels.

      If they have cell repeaters in the subway they probably already have the ability to track phones.

    • by Yomers (863527)
      I see it now - Moscow, Kuncevskaya metro station, winter, early morning, people are hurrying for work, entering metro station like an endless river. Before entering the station stream of people stops. what are they doing? Looks like everyone taking their cellphone out with cold, numb fingers, and wrap it with tinfoil. I see an old woman, she stays there with a cellphone in her hand, looking lost - what happened? Oh noes, she forgot her tinfoil! Will somebody help her, give her a piece of tinfoil to wrap up
      • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

        I can see foil lined pockets becoming common, particularly with business people wanting to protect their corporate phones.

    • ...is anyone else disturbed that the Moscow subway system has/needs its own police department? Just how bad is the crime there, anyway?

      • by oobayly (1056050)

        We have the same in the UK - British Transport Police [wikipedia.org] who I learned are 95% funded by the train companies*. Essentially, it's just another constabulary with a limited jurisdiction:

        In certain circumstances, a BTP constable can act as a police constable outside of their normal railway jurisdiction as described in the "Powers and status of officers" section.

        * I learned this today when I was wondering why the public are paying for police on privately owned trains stations, and then found we're not (at least, not directly)

      • ...is anyone else disturbed that the Moscow subway system has/needs its own police department? Just how bad is the crime there, anyway?

        A lot of transit systems have their own police.

        Disney World even has its own fire department.

        • by stiggle (649614)

          Disney World resides in its own Disney controlled district (Reedy Creek Improvement District) which provides all the main services (fire, utilities, roads, etc) but not police who are from Orange County & Florida Highway Patrol.

    • by LoRdTAW (99712)

      I have a Russian friend who has told me that cell phones work in the Moscow stations. It was part of his argument as to why the NYC subways stations don't have cell reception but should.

    • by Sky Cry (872584)

      People would not be able to use their phones on the subway, which is probably not possible anyway unless antennas have been installed in the tunnels.

      Except they have been installed in the tunnels. E.g.: http://english.corp.megafon.ru/news/20120206-1808.html [megafon.ru]

  • Its obvious (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Stumbles (602007) on Tuesday July 30, 2013 @05:36PM (#44429325)
    To say their reasoning is thinly veiled is to say Santa Claus is alive and well at the North Pole. Tracking "stolen" phones not is it about.
    • by grcumb (781340)

      Tracking "stolen" phones not is it about.

      Thanks for the insight, Yoda.

      All my base are belong to you now. :-)

    • by bhiestand (157373)

      To say their reasoning is thinly veiled is to say Santa Claus is alive and well at the North Pole. Tracking "stolen" phones not is it about.

      Santa's house was destroyed when the ice melted, you insensitive clod!

  • And what happens when a thief steals a phone and plants it in the bag of an unsuspecting commuter?
    • by Mitreya (579078) <mitreya&gmail,com> on Tuesday July 30, 2013 @06:20PM (#44429711)

      And what happens when a thief steals a phone and plants it in the bag of an unsuspecting commuter?

      Or, even more likely, a representative of the Moscow police force plants a "stolen" phone.

      It may be illegal to arrest unsuspecting commuters, but a vile thief (suspect) is fair game for anything. And the magic box will catch him right away.

      • Im predicting a sudden spike in "stolen" phones being found on people who publicly denounce Putin.
    • by dywolf (2673597)

      Why would he do that? That's more prank than "theft".

      Besides you're approaching this the wrong way.

      What you want to do is plant false positives in the police list.
      This way, the police themselves then committ the thefts for you by returning your "stolen" phone(s).

  • by maliqua (1316471) on Tuesday July 30, 2013 @05:37PM (#44429335)

    trains track you

    • Fabulous, funny, and insightful. If this keeps up it may be time to break out the Soviet jokes Reagan collected [youtube.com].

    • In Soviet Russia, train catches YOU!
  • Is it really about detecting stolen phones/SIM cards, or is that a convenient 'cover story' for eavesdropping on people's private smartphone data while they wait to ride the subway?

    Why would they bother when they can just force the local cellular providers to let them access this data directly and easily

    • by icebike (68054)

      Is it really about detecting stolen phones/SIM cards, or is that a convenient 'cover story' for eavesdropping on people's private smartphone data while they wait to ride the subway?

      Why would they bother when they can just force the local cellular providers to let them access this data directly and easily

      You've been duped by the title. There is no ability to read your data off of the phone.
      All it does is capture Sim numbers (IMSI) of phones that move past the detector.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 30, 2013 @05:41PM (#44429371)

    In post-Soviet Russia, trackers run on subway!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    How long will it be before the US employs a system like this? Pfft. The US has probably had a system like this in place for a while.

  • SIM tracking? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bikin (1113139) on Tuesday July 30, 2013 @05:42PM (#44429383)
    Tracking the SIM is ridiculous for detecting stolen phones. A thief that is not brain dead will turn it off immediately and discard the SIM, if they don't do so already. If you really want to stop mobiles from being stolen, the simple solution is IMEI blocking at phone company level. The IMEI cannot be changed since it is normally written in write-once memory, and it may even be illegal to change. The wikipedia article is super clear in the first lines: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Mobile_Station_Equipment_Identity [wikipedia.org] . A phone blocked at IMEI level is useless since it cannot be used even with a different SIM, so the sale value is almost nil, only valuable for parts. Tracking IMSIs can be used for other purposes, like tracking non-stolen phones or more interesting the owners. The article is quite scant on details, so not a lot can be assumed.
    • Re:SIM tracking? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Tuesday July 30, 2013 @06:06PM (#44429603)

      The IMEI cannot be changed since it is normally written in write-once memory, and it may even be illegal to change.

      Won't argue how easy/hard it might be to change the IMEI, but do you REALLY think a thief is going to be deterred from changing it because it's illegal????

      Hint: stealing it in the first place was illegal too.

      • by dywolf (2673597)

        Kinda like the expectation that criminals would obey gun laws then?

        • Pretty much....
    • by Anonymous Coward

      A stolen phone resalable.

      Change the IMEI for phones that need it (There was an article here a while back with a number of chinese phones having the *SAME* IMEI and thus cutting... what tens to hundreds of thousands off when the IMEI from one of them was blocked? Since the phone companies worked by SIM ID not IMEI the phones had all worked fine on the network until the IMEI blacklist happened.)

      And secondly: Either wiping and reprinting, or simply reprinting the device ID sticker inside the battery case.

      While

      • by icebike (68054)

        What the hell do the labels have to do with it?

        Even the Russians never ask to see "Your Labels Comrade".
        Changing the SIM (IMSI) still leaves your phone transmitting its IMEI with every tower connection.

        While its not impossible to change your IMEI [youtube.com], most thieves don't bother. They just resell the phone quickly.

        • by citizenr (871508) on Tuesday July 30, 2013 @08:43PM (#44430617) Homepage

          IMSI tracking is impossible, all that if floating in the air is TMSI - automagically random generated when you turn on your phone (unless they also install gsm blockers and force phones to lose connection in a chokepoint somewhere).
          IMEI changing is trivial, thieves dont do it, fences/repair shops do (in countries where imsi block lists are active)

          This whole article is stupid and written by clueless person interviewing another clueless person :(

          • by gl4ss (559668)

            I'm guessing they're installing rfid on the simcard itself.

            it sounds super stupid and would be much easier to just do the imei blocking. the simcard is going to be shut down and subsequently thrown out pretty fast anyways.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The IMEI *can* be changed with special software. In several countries, there are shops that offer the "service" of changing the IMEI number of an stolen phone for a new random one, in order to avoid the blocking.

    • by Suhas (232056)

      The IMEI cannot be changed since it is normally written in write-once memory, and it may even be illegal to change.

      I just had to ask, even at the cost of modding a different thread again. You really think that a person who steals a phone would not change the IMEI (if possible) because changing the IMEI may be illegal? Really? I am struggling to understand the logical thought process which led you to this conclusion.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Who is to say that the US is not already using this technology. If not for police surveillance, then in grocery stores to see how many times you walk past the cigarettes before buying Tylenol...

    • by jbeaupre (752124)

      A crude version of this happens in China. Certain locations trigger text messages to my phone.

      • A crude version of this happens in China. Certain locations trigger text messages to my phone.

        Does it SMS you things like "You are in a restricted area. Leave now. Use of deadly force authorized."

  • Not sure what this would accomplish... tracking of an individual? The moment the target steps out of the subway, they could track them via cell towers. Read data off the SIM card? Go for it, I don't store any data on my SIM... my phone's internal memory has all the space I need. Also, if I'm a thief, the first thing I do after I steal a phone is remove the battery, and possibly throw away the SIM. What else could they hope to accomplish with such a system?
    • by bmk67 (971394)

      What else could they hope to accomplish with such a system?

      Track people in the subway system, where they cannot track them by triangulation from cell towers.

      It's likely the bit about tracking and recovering stolen phones is nothing but a cover story to keep the proles from complaining too loudly.

  • the casual thief might get caught by this, for a while. .. when I started writing this, I was thinking "SIM cards aren't RFID, are they?" I was wrong [blogspot.ca]. So maybe they're just reading RFID tags?

    What's the cost of an RFID-blocking smartphone wallet these days? Passport wallets that advertise RFID blocking are about $20 us or so...

  • It is probably been in place for some time, and they probably have far more intrusive devices they don't tell you about
  • by MarkvW (1037596) on Tuesday July 30, 2013 @05:50PM (#44429437)

    I can't wait to see how James Bond gets around this one.

    • by isorox (205688)

      I can't wait to see how James Bond gets around this one.

      He'll ride a motorbike rather than take the subway.

      "Welcome to rush hour on the Tube. Not something you'd know much about."

    • by dywolf (2673597)

      Simple: don't carry a phone.

  • I may be naive, but I was under the impression that SIM cards required electrical contact to interface with. Is there some special trick the Russian's are using, or is there a radio device in Russian SIM cards, or all SIM cards? Or are they co-opting the phone somehow?

    • by DigitAl56K (805623) on Tuesday July 30, 2013 @05:54PM (#44429473)

      I may be naive, but I was under the impression that SIM cards required electrical contact to interface with. Is there some special trick the Russian's are using, or is there a radio device in Russian SIM cards, or all SIM cards? Or are they co-opting the phone somehow?

      I see there is more information in the second article than the first. They are using fake towers to collect identifying information when the phone connects, which is quite different.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    It isn't as if they hide each new stage of project 1984. You may have noticed how many new technologies BOAST about their ability to wirelessly connect to near-by receivers. The idea is simple- everything becomes some form of electronic bug.

    We, the owner, should be in charge of such functionality, when it operates, and what it is allowed to share, but the trend is in a very different direction. The tiny, highly integrated SoC designs in modern mobile devices are a far cry from the old desktop PC. They are,

  • is MR. Big Brother to you, my dear tovarich :)
  • It really doesn't matter whether those Russians want their secret police back or they are genuinely interested only in tracking stolen phones. Either way, this is still old Russia once again: promising cutting-edge technology be designed, built, and massively deployed for a purpose that >99% of people will never see for themselves. At least if somebody figures it out the system doesn't actually exist, they're a criminal that isn't going to want to speak up for fear of giving away their criminal behavior.
  • So i guess you are not allowed to own your own phone.

  • Article is overblown (Score:4, Informative)

    by Cyberax (705495) on Tuesday July 30, 2013 @06:45PM (#44429887)
    Moscow Subway doesn't plan to "read data on passangers' phones". They are simply setting up femtocells to report if a phone with a flagged number comes close. So if someone steals a phone from you on the subway (happens all the time :( ) you simply need to inform station personnel and police would have a chance to catch a thief.

    Technically, it can be used for tracking. But why bother? Cell phone companies must provide tracking records to law enforcement on request anyway.
    • by citizenr (871508)

      If its all legal and above the board then why install hardware instead of just asking phone company where particular subscriber is logged in?

      • by Cyberax (705495)
        That's _exactly_ what they're doing. They are installing small cells to make tracking more accurate inside the subway and adding a system to rapidly inform cell network operators about stolen phones.
        • by citizenr (871508)

          No its not. Its cell network operators who already KNOW the location.

          • by Cyberax (705495)
            Yep. But they only know that a phone is somewhere on a subway station (and they are often quite large). These femtocells allow to localize it to just several meters. And GPS obviously does not work underground.
    • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

      Technically, it can be used for tracking. But why bother?

      Money. Tracking data is valuable and can easily be sold.

  • accept ALL interference. Including "lost my iphone" broadcasts. Russians are such rank amateurs. In soviet america we do as we please! at least our government does, anyway.
  • if this scheme goes ahead, how long will it be before the U.S., Europe and other territories employ devices that do this, too?

    Moscow is in Europe, so it would already be "Europe" employing these devices. In the EU this would definitely be very illegal, but unfortunately Russia isn't in the EU. It is under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights though, who I assume would have some strong words to say about it.

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