Communion Of Dreams


“Strange how paranoia can link up with reality now and then.”*

When you see news like this in the mainstream press…

Rogue Cell Towers Could Be Intercepting Your Call

It seems rather far fetched at first glance. There is news that came out last week that rogue cell phone towers around the US are forcing mobile devices to disable their encryption making it possible that someone might be able to listen in to your call. “That could never happen to me,” you think out loud. But, apparently it could.

In 2010 at the DEF CON in Las Vegas, security researcher Chris Paget did the unthinkable. He built a cell tower of his own so that he could spoof legitimate towers and intercept calls.The device would mimic the type used by law enforcement agencies to intercept phone calls. In this case, he was able to build it for roughly $1500 US. Paget’s device would only capture 2G GSM phone calls. Carriers such as AT&TT -0.06% and T-Mobile would be vulnerable as they use GSM, unlike Verizon which relies on CDMA technology.

… it’s easy to feel a little paranoid. But is this a real threat? Has anyone actually seen things like this ‘in the wild’?

Yup:

Rogue ‘Cell Towers’ Can Intercept Your Data; At Least One Found In Chicago

So-called rogue cell phone towers, the type that can intercept your mobile calls and data, are cropping up all over the United States, including here in Chicago, according to a company that specializes in developing highly secure mobile phones.

* * *

CBS 2 security analyst Ross Rice, a former FBI agent, said it’s likely being used illegally.

“I doubt that they are installed by law enforcement as they require a warrant to intercept conversations or data and since the cell providers are ordered by the court to cooperate with the intercept, there really would be no need for this,” Rice said.

“Most likely, they are installed and operated by hackers, trying to steal personal identification and passwords.”

Great. Just great.

Well, what can you do? There are some smart phones out there which are designed to thwart this kind of security threat. And I’ve mentioned another option previously. And now there’s a company with a whole line of clothing based on similar RF-blocking technology:

Kickstarting a line of Orwell-inspired clothes with radio-shielding pockets

“The 1984 Collection” is a line of clothing for men and women with removable, snap-in pockets that act as radio-shields for slipping your devices and tokens (cards, phones, etc) into to stop them from being read when you’re not using them.

Hmm … let’s see, there’s a passage from Chapter One of St Cybi’s Well that comes to mind:

Darnell stepped close to her, said in a low voice, “Give me your hand-held.”

She looked at him, raised an eyebrow. “Why?”

“I don’t want to make it too easy for anyone to listen in.”

“Really, Dar, or is this some kind of joke?”

“Really.”

She looked him in the eye, pulled her phone out of her small purse, held it out to him. “Here.”

“Either turn it off or put it into offline mode.”

She fiddled with it a moment then handed it over. He took it and dropped it into the RF-blocking pocket in his satchel. “Thanks.”

“Couldn’t I just have turned it off?”

“Nope. They can still turn it on remotely and activate the mic. This pocket,” he patted the satchel where he had put the phone, “blocks the signal. It isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty good protection.”

I guess I need to get back into the habit of using my RF-shielding pocket.

 

Jim Downey

*Philip K. Dick, of course.



Applied tech.

Sorry for a bit of absence – I came down with an annoying cold over the weekend, and needed to devote my energy to getting past that.

Anyway, remember last time I mentioned a technology change I introduced into the Prelude of St Cybi’s Well? Well, now I have worked through the rest of the book, applying that change where appropriate, until I got back to where I am currently writing. And I thought I would share the following passage, so you can get a sense of how the tech works:

“See it?” asked Eleazar.

Darnell shook his head, but peered closer where Eleazar pointed. He could see something faint on the rock, but couldn’t make the image resolve. So he took out his hand-held, removed the stylus. Pointing the stylus camera and the flash on the phone at the image, he tapped an icon on the screen. There were a series of quick flashes, and the screen filled with a close-up of the stone face. Eleazar looked on with some amusement as Darnell used a slider at the bottom of the screen to go up and down the spectrum, changing the image and bringing out details otherwise hidden in it. Darnell glanced up at Eleazar, saw his amusement, and explained “Multispectral imaging. Not nearly the resolution or range of real remote sensing equipment, but handy for some things.”

“Particularly when you’re going blind, eh?”

“Yeah. And until I can find my miracle, this helps.” Darnell smiled slightly, a wry, almost sad smile. “But the range of the image is well beyond what even good human sight can see – what even you can see.”

“I already know what is there,” said Eleazar.

“Well, now so do I,” said Darnell, pausing in his manipulation of the image and holding up the screen. On it was a cup. An old cup, like an ancient chalice, clearly visible on the menhir face.

 

Back to it.

 

Jim Downey



All my best ideas occur to me while I’m in the shower …

Seriously. It’s a common thing for me. Usually I shower while listening to Morning Edition or The Diane Rehm show, picking up on the news or some interesting topic of conversation. The combination of engaging my brain while relaxing my body seems to prompt intuitive leaps and interesting insights. And I had an excellent one this morning.

From back in December:

He turned the hand-held on, did a quick check to make sure it had the software and apps he’d asked for. Everything was there. He’d pick up a burner phone later, and swap the SIMM card into the hand-held.

Compare it to this passage:

He turned the hand-held on, did a quick check to make sure it had the software and apps he’d asked for. Everything was there. It was a model with a ‘super stylus’ – one end for working on the screen like any stylus, the other which had an integrated camera and microphone system wirelessly tethered to the phone. With the range of applications available, this damned near made the thing a proto-tricorder. He’d pick up a burner phone later, and swap the SIMM card into the hand-held.

 

No big deal, right? Just two additional sentences. What constitutes a minor tweak, right?

Actually, it’s the first major revision of St Cybi’s Well. Granted, I’m only about halfway done with the first draft, so calling it a revision might seem to be a bit much. But it’s not.

Consider what you could do with such a change to our current technology. My present smartphone is a Samsung Galaxy Note II. It’s a great phone, with an amazing range of applications available for it. If you added a resident decent camera and mic to the end of the stylus, combined with the right software, this thing really would be almost like a tricorder. Particularly if the quality of the camera were such that it could pick up a wider range of EMR than just normal visible light, and the mic(s) were sensitive to a wider range of sounds. You might need to add in something like an IR or UV “flash/laser” on the phone body, but doing so would allow you to do a wide range of diagnostics well outside the usual range of human vision and hearing. Just off the top of my head it would be capable of:

  • Checking surface temperatures.
  • Night vision.
  • Rangefinder.
  • Motion detection.
  • Blood oxygenation & glucose monitoring.
  • Pulse/heart monitor.
  • Echolocation.
  • The ability to look around corners or over walls, into small crevices/holes …
  • The ability to listen to distant sounds and to estimate location of same.

 

You get the idea. And pretty much all that should be possible with our present level of technology (both hardware & software), just brought together in some slightly different ways.

So yeah, just two sentences dropped into the “Prelude” to the actual novel, but which sets the stage for me to allow my characters to know and do more throughout the whole book.

Fun stuff.

 

Jim Downey