Triggerfish (surveillance)

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Triggerfish describes a technology of cell phone interception and surveillance using a mobile cellular base station (microcell or picocell). The devices are also known as cell-site simulators or digital analyzers.

Device capability[edit]

  • Tracking of a cell phone by a mobile FBI van (Wireless Intercept and Tracking Team) which seeks to locate a cell phone lacking GPS tracking by scanning for its emissions. This first became known for its use in tracking hacker Kevin Mitnick.[1]
  • Mimicking a cell phone tower to force cell phones in the area to reveal their phone numbers, serial numbers and locations. A report by Global Research of Canada suggests that this feature was used to identify and round up the RNC 8, organizers seeking to lead protests at the 2008 Republican National Convention.[2]
  • Intercepting a cell phone call by a man in the middle attack, if the option is enabled, and the user makes or receives a call.

Controversy and concerns[edit]

Neither the user nor the cell phone provider needs to know about Triggerfish for it to be used successfully.[3] A court order is required, but the device circumvents provisions of CALEA barring use of pen register or trap-and-trace devices.[4]

The device is similar to but distinct from an IMSI catcher.[5]

On March 28, 2013, the Washington Post reported that federal investigators "routinely" use the systems to track criminal suspects, but sometimes fail to explain the technology sufficiently to magistrate judges from whom they seek search warrants.[6]

Appearance in popular culture[edit]

A Triggerfish device is used in season three of the HBO show The Wire.

See also[edit]




  1. ^ Ryan Singel (2007-12-20). "FBI E-Mail Shows Rift Over Warrantless Phone Record Grabs". Wired. 
  2. ^ Tom Burghart (2008-11-19). "Preemptive Policing & the National Security State: Repressing Dissent at the Republican National Convention". Global Research. 
  3. ^ Rachel Myers (2008-11-14). "With Technology Like This, Who Needs the Law?". ACLU. 
  4. ^ Julian Sanchez (2008-11-16). "FOIA docs show feds can lojack mobiles without telco help". Ars Technica. 
  5. ^ Johnathan Racicot (2008-11-18). "Cyber Espionage : The Triggerfish". Cyberwarfare Magazine. 
  6. ^ Nakashima, Ellen (2013-03-28). "Little-known surveillance tool raises concerns by judges, privacy activists". The Washington Post. Retrieved 28 March 2013.