Looking Under the Hood of a Spy “Implant”

Looking Under the Hood of a Spy “Implant”

This story had me at “espionage implant” and “trickle down espionage” Via Cory at Boing Boing comes this fascinating tech teardown of an S8 data line locator, a GSM-based listening device hidden inside of a standard USB cable.

A while back Joe Fitz tweeted about the S8 data line locator. He referred to it as “Trickle down espionage” due to its reminiscence of NSA spying equipment.

The S8 data line locator is a GSM listening and location device hidden inside the plug of a standard USB data/charging cable. It supports the 850, 900, 1800 and 1900 MHz GSM frequencies.

Its core idea is very similar to the COTTONMOUTH product line by the NSA/CSS in which an RF device is hidden inside a USB plug. Those hidden devices are referred to as implants.

The device itself is marketed as a location tracker usable in cars, where a thief would not be able to identify the USB cable as a location tracking device. Its malicious use-cases can, however, not be denied. Especially since it features no GPS making its location reporting very coarse (1.57 km deviation in my tests). It can, e.g., be called to listen to a live audio feed from a small microphone within the device, as well as programmed to call back if the sound level surpasses a 45 dB threshold. The fact that the device can be repackaged in its sliding case, after configuring it, i.e. inserting a SIM, without any noticeable marks to the packaging suggests its use-case: covert espionage.

The concept of “trickle down espionage” is fascinating, where spying devices, created by the NSA and other agencies, eventually make their way into the consumer marketplace. This innocuous-looking USB plug contains circuitry and even a SIM card slot that allows the snooper to gather data on location and to listen in on the computer’s mic. When the volume on the computer goes above 40dB, the device even sends a text message to the snoopy-pants on the other end. Because the device relies on GSM towers, not GPS, to calculate its location, it is only accurate to about 1.57km. Mich, the hacker who bought, got it for 7 euros, which is under US$8.50.

Spy tech. The more you know…

[via Boing Boing]

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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. His free weekly-ish maker tips newsletter can be found at garstipsandtools.com.

View more articles by Gareth Branwyn


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