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New 'terror' weapon: Satellite phone spoofing

By Vicky Nanjappa
July 17, 2009 14:44 IST
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Satellite phones were one of the biggest weapons of terrorists who attacked Mumbai on November 26. While there was a hue and cry by Indian security agencies to monitor the use of satellite phones being used by terrorists, the latter have gone one step ahead to beat the agencies, and continue making calls.

Complete coverage: Terror strikes at Mumbai's heart

Ahead of the talks between India and Pakistan, the former had said that Pakistan had been spoofing the signals of the satellite phones being used by terrorists so that the calls remained untraceable for security agencies in India.

The worry for India is that terror outfits seem to be getting better by the day where technology is concerned, and this is one of the latest that they had to offer when India was going all out in its fight against terror.

According to Intelligence Bureau sources, the Pakistan intelligence is actively involved in helping terror outfits spoof satellite phones so that the information is not picked on this side of the border.

This allows those persons making calls to continue speaking without being traced.

Experts say that spoofing is generally done with caller ids. Basically it causes the telephone network to display a number of the recipient which is not of the actual originating station.

Sources say that following the Mumbai attack, there was a lot of pressure on Pakistan since Indian security agencies were able to trace clearly that every call was made to Pakistan by the operatives.

This prompted them to come up with newer techniques to ensure that the signals that are emitted while making a call are spoofed.

Basically, the intelligence agencies in Pakistan have helped terror outfits set up high quality transmitters across the borders so that the signals are spoofed.

The result is that none of the security agencies in India are able to pick up exactly where the call is being made from, although they are able to pick up the conversation.

The IB says that it is important that they trace where the call is being made from.

Experts say that spoofing was introduced for undercover agents, but sadly this technology has been picked up by terrorists too, who are using it to their advantage.

The other worry on hand is that the same technology could be used for GPS spoofing. Terror groups will also use this technology to send out false positions and signals with the help of GPS spoofing. This could also confuse security agencies since a false signal is being sent out.

Security experts say that following the Mumbai attack, the plan was to use jammers to obstruct the use of satellite phones.

However, it is a difficult situation, says IB. During an attack like situation, the devices should be blocked so that no communication is coming through.

But it is also important to pick up intercepts in the interest of national security and blocking it would not help. While there are methods to block or jam cell phone conversations, department of telecommunications officials are still exploring ways and means to block satellite phone communications.

Security experts say that India will definitely do something about spoofing, but are also worried that terror groups could use the operatives of other countries to make the calls.

The satellite phones which are being used by terror groups are available in all the Gulf countries and also in Nepal, which incidentally have been considered as safe havens for terror groups.

With most of the operatives and key men moving into countries like Nepal to set up base, they could start using that land to make calls; which means that security agencies in India have another headache on hand.

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Vicky Nanjappa