Speed Reads

bye bye privacy

This cell phone security breach lets spies access calls just by knowing your phone number

As your cell phone moves, it connects to different towers and networks, and cell carriers use a communications system called Signaling System 7 (SS7) to provide uninterrupted service during those transitions. SS7 dates to the 1970s, and it is not very secure. Given the right know-how, anyone with access to your cell phone number can potentially use SS7 to track the location of your phone and even intercept calls, texts, and data use.

"Researchers say that SS7 tracking systems around the world now create millions of 'malicious queries' — meaning messages seeking unauthorized access to user information — each month," The Washington Post explains in a Wednesday report on a newly obtained letter from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) to the Department of Homeland Security urging the agency to address the issue. Wyden has also contacted the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) with a related request.

Cell carriers have added firewalls and other security measures to guard SS7 transmissions since news first broke of the technology's vulnerability a decade ago, but the protections remain imperfect. Federal employees are thought to be particularly at risk, because "America is the Number One target, far and away. Everyone wants to know what's happening in America," Brian Collins, the owner of an Irish cellular security firm, told the Post. "You will always be a target, whether at home or away."