Mobile phone network jamming in Mpeketoni plausible?
19 June 2014, 12:40
Nairobi - A day after the Mpeketoni Attacks, the Interior CS Joseph Ole Lenku released a statement that attackers had jammed Safaricom’s mobile network. This statement was later refuted by the Minister who said that base tower ran out of fuel, causing mobile coverage outage in the area. As a result, local residents could not send out distress calls through their mobile phones.
This has since opened up discussions as to whether of jamming mobile phone signals is feasible.
Electronic signal jamming has long been employed towards various objectives.
It was launched as a form of military espionage during World War II when ground operators attempted to mislead pilots by falsifying instructions in the pilots’ own language. This was known as a spoofing attack.
The technique later evolved into radar jamming which disrupts radar guidance in enemy aircraft and missiles.
Today, electronic signal jamming is generally employed by totalitarian governments to prevent foreign radio and mobile phone signals from reaching the country.
In the United States, mobile phone jamming is heavily used in various institutions where mobile phone use is undesirable. Cell phone jammers are common in churches, movie theaters and shopping malls there.
However, the legality of cell phone jammers is still a grey area.
In May this year, the Federal Communications Commission in the US arrested a man who had rigged a cell phone jammer in his car.
His jammer rendered every cell phone around his blue Toyota Highlander unable to connect to the nearby cell phone tower on Florida’s 1-4 highway. The tower seemed to fail every morning and evening, times the man cruised the highway.
The cell phone used by the man was a commercially available cell phone jammer that knocked out cell phone towers contained in a radius of not less than 100 feet.
When police stopped the man’s car, even their own two way radios gave out from what they termed as strong wideband emissions.
Such was the power of the small jammer the man had rigged to his car. It was no bigger than a 7 inch smartphone.
Cell phone signal jammers work by transmitting a barrage of high powered signals on the same frequency as the one used by cell phones to communicate with cell phone towers.
This drives cell phones nuts, and in-line with their design, they dedicate more battery power to emit high powered frequencies in a frenzied attempt to re-establish contact with base towers.
The effect of this is generally observable as the cell phone will drain its battery at an unusually high rate.
The signal from cell phone jammers is very strong, creating a denial of service in the area of deployment. Mobile phones are consequently knocked off the grid.
Cursory surfing the Internet points to dozens of manufacturers selling all manner of cell phone jammers. These jammers make short work of both 2G and 3G networks and are relatively cheap to acquire at less than $200.
One can only assume that malicious individuals can easily access these devices and deploy them with relative ease.
On a more scary development, a researcher has successfully forced cell phones to abandon their registered network and latch on to a network set up by him. Using a variation of cell phone jammers, the researcher was able to force all cell phones in greater Las Vegas to connect to his independent network in 2010.
With such capabilities, it is possible to read or listen to any communication from cell phones or direct such communications to any destination the researcher preferred. The researcher demonstrated this during the 18th DEFCON conference in 2010.
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