Some information about wiretapping. Who, how and why do they listen to us?
Find out who is eavesdropping on our phone calls
Wiretapping is one of the most dangerous things at this time
“Not on the phone,” “Now I’m going to call you from another number,” “Let’s go out on the street, it’s better not to talk here.” These phrases have become entrenched in life.
After all, a few years ago, half of the crazies were greeted by people who complained about tapping phones and desks. Like those who wear tin hats and believe in the zombie rays of the KGB. Today everyone knows – everyone is listening, listening regardless of the law, and often wiretapping material is used not in court, but in political intrigues, denunciations and provocations.
In the jargon of law enforcement agencies, wiretapping and internet traffic control is called the acronym SORM – “System of Technical Means to Ensure the Functions of Operational Search Procedures”. SORM-1 is a set of actions aimed at eavesdropping on mobile communications, SORM-2 – mobile Internet traffic.
Today, these investigation techniques are coming to the fore, surpassing the traditional methods. Accordingly, the units responsible for SORM became more influential in the internal affairs bodies.
By law, wiretapping and internet traffic control is only possible with a court decision. It is true that the law allows investigators to “operate the recording” without it, if the case is urgent and eavesdropping is necessary to prevent an imminent crime.
By roughly the same principle, investigators are allowed “as an exception” to conduct searches and receive a court order after the incident. As in searches, law enforcement officers often use this rule to gain uncontrolled access to others’ secrets.
There are also ways to legalize illegal eavesdropping on phone calls by placing the name and phone number of the person in question on a long list of suspects in a criminal case. According to sources in the authorities, judges almost never delve into how this or that title is related to a criminal case, and they sign the permits “in one fell swoop”. These court decisions are classified as “secret,” and ordinary citizens will never know who was on the “wiretapping” lists.
However, experts involved in wiretapping say that today more and more citizens are “registering” and without any judicial decisions whatsoever. Every telecom operator has equipment that allows law enforcement personnel to access any customer’s conversations at any time (operators are required by law to do so). And in the regional division of the FSB there is a remote access station, with which you can start listening to any mobile user with a few clicks.
By law, many private services are entitled to wiretapping. In addition to the FSB itself, it is the Ministry of Internal Affairs, FSKN, GUFSIN, Customs, FSO, SVR. But the device control itself, which ensures the operation of SORM-1 and SORM-2, is in the hands of the FSB. As the experts explain, in order to put this or that number on the eavesdropping, the personnel of the Police Office of Special Technical Procedures do not need to escape to the FSB and pressure them.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs and other bodies that carry out operational research activities have their own access terminals. But they are connected “through the FSB”, that is, the master key is still in the possession of the security officers.
How to protect yourself from eavesdropping? Almost nothing … Firstly, it is useless to change SIM cards – they put on the wiretapping not a mobile phone number, but a unique phone number (IMEI). Whatever SIM card is installed in the phone, it will remain “alive”. Many representatives of the establishment and businessmen carry several phones with them, thinking that one of them is “normal” is listening, and others – “left” – are not.
This is naive … if someone is eavesdropped, the authorities’ personnel constantly receive information about the whereabouts of their phone. To do this, the phone does not need to install a GPS unit, and the location of the simplest and cheapest phone is determined by base stations with an accuracy of one meter.
And if you carry several phones with you, then according to the geolocation data, you can see that next to your “main” number there are always 2-3 more tubes. They are also put-on wiretapping instantly, so walking around with a bunch of phones is completely pointless.
However, there is a small trick, which allows you to keep the negotiations relatively confidential. Suppose there are two devices – A and B. Device A is used constantly, and there is reason to believe it is being listened to. Module B – for confidential conversations, recorded for another person. In this case, A and B should never be run simultaneously and side by side.
If you need to make a call on a “secret” phone B, turn A off, drive away, into another base station coverage area, turn B on, and place a call. Then you turn off B, then switch back to another base station and turn on A. Another way is to keep the “secret” phone somewhere hidden, every time you get to it with the “main” mobile off.
Victims of eavesdropping on phone calls especially carefully prefer to turn off the phone during an important conversation or hide it somewhere far away. Phone registration is in standby mode, but this technology is rarely used. In these cases, the so-called microphone effect is used. This can only be done if a team of specialists works in the immediate vicinity of the interlocutors. Signal receiver and recorder should be located nearby.
By analyzing SORM-2’s internet traffic, security officials are doing a little worse so far than wiretapping. Although telecom operators provide intelligence services with any information in the same way, the analysis of this data itself is somewhat complicated.
Any smartphone constantly downloads and sends a massive amount of data. Until recently, there was a big problem with isolating all this important information, for example, correspondence in Skype. However, this issue has now been generally resolved, even in the areas where they learned to read Internet messaging software.
Security officials may want to “listen to everyone,” but in reality, there are only a few hundred people under constant supervision. Most of them are suspected of extremism (primarily in the Islamic sense) and terrorism, members of an organized criminal group being developed, and participants in opaque financial transactions on a large scale (“money changers”, etc.). Only no more than 10% of the total “supervised” mass listens to political orders.
Recently, another proven way to become a victim of eavesdropping has emerged – to regularly criticize the current government or go to protest demonstrations. Of course, not all street workers will be taken advantage of, but the most active participants will be exploited.
Recently, an increasingly important role in the architecture of SORM has been played by the analysis of information collected in social networks. Intelligence agencies have access to all correspondence conducted on social networks. With Facebook, the situation is more complicated, but even here connection anonymity is not guaranteed. A relatively safe way to communicate is via Western postal services, for example, Gmail or instant messaging programs, for example, Telegram.
Rarely today do businessmen and politicians discuss on the phone something more important than fishing and football. So, in addition to analyzing actual texts of negotiations, cyber-intelligence specialists are involved in processing large amounts of data, identifying mathematical patterns, implicit connections, and building on this basis hypotheses about the interaction of specific groups or people. The material for this could be phone calls, emails, banking transactions, processes to register or liquidate legal entities, etc.
Understanding electronic correspondence and observing phone conversations has gone so far as the authors of miserable fiction never dreamed of. The power of SORM often helps prevent real terrorist acts or real crimes. But the public is more visible when electronic intelligence methods are used for political persecution and have nothing to do with legal process.
At the same time, not only opponents, but pro-Kremlin politicians also suffer from uncontrolled surveillance. Bargaining materials collected by electronic means often become a weapon of the elite’s struggle against those who, until recently, have been ordered to eavesdrop on their enemies. In this sense, cyber intelligence has become a threat against which no one is immune.