Sure, you can get location data from cell towers… but bribing a telecom employee is a hassle. And what about all those people who only use Wi-Fi connections?
Enter the CreepyDOL, a proof-of-concept system of small air-droppable sensors. Left on the roofs of buildings, they connect to any local wireless network and open an encrypted and anonymized connection back to the central monitoring station… and then proceed to transmit all the device identifiers they can see.
“The system, known as CreepyDOL, uses a network of air-dropped sensors that listen for wireless traffic, allowing the tracking of anyone with a wireless-enabled mobile device.
“The CreepyDOL system takes the fundamental assumption of hiding in the crowd and does away with it,” says Brendan O’Connor, the founder of security consultancy Malice Afterthought and the creator of the system. “Even if you don’t connect, if you are wired on a network, we will find you. If you are a person in a city, we will find you, and we will do it all for very little money.”
While many privacy activists focus on the massive amounts of data collected by Google and other Internet firms, and the widespread collection of metadata by the National Security Agency, CreepyDOL underscores that many of the problems are with fast development of the “Internet of things.”
“This is really going to get out of control, but it’s the future,” says Chris Wysopal, chief technology officer for Veracode, an application-security firm. “Everyone is going to be able to track anyone, unless there are regulations.” […]
O’Connor put together a “Frankensteinian” collection of technologies to create the sensor platform. He created a disposable sensor platform that can be air-dropped on the rooftops of buildings in the targeted area. Dubbed F-BOMB, the platform costs less than $60 and can last for five days or more on two AA batteries. The sensors connect to each other using a wireless command-and-control protocol, called Reticle, that O’Connor created to connect to open wireless networks and use the Tor anonymizing network to send data and receive commands.
The two technologies scramble communications and also encrypt information about the other nodes in a way that makes forensics analysis difficult. Even if a CreepyDOL node is found, a defender should not be able to gain information about the attacker, O’Connor says.
The system listens for the control signals sent from smartphones that are looking to connect to a wireless network. Any smartphone or tablet with WiFi enabled will occasionally send information about itself and the networks it knows about. In addition, if the phone is connected to an open wireless network, the sensors can listen in. Many mobile applications send enough data in the clear to gain additional information on the user.
Finally, O’Connor used a popular 3-D graphics engine to track the whereabouts and additional information about users. The security researcher created a number of filters to grab data and turn that data into information about the user. The sensors do not send any data, only listening for data sent in the clear, he says. “