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) that 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]
  • 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 need to know about Triggerfish for it to be used successfully.[2] A court order is required, but the device circumvents provisions of CALEA barring use of pen register or trap-and-trace devices.[3]

The device is similar to but distinct from an IMSI catcher.[4]

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.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ryan Singel (2007-12-20). "FBI E-Mail Shows Rift Over Warrantless Phone Record Grabs". Wired.
  2. ^ Rachel Myers (2008-11-14). "With Technology Like This, Who Needs the Law?". ACLU.
  3. ^ Julian Sanchez (2008-11-16). "FOIA docs show feds can lojack mobiles without telco help". Ars Technica.
  4. ^ Jonathan Racicot (2008-11-18). "Cyber Espionage : The Triggerfish". Infected Packets. Retrieved 2016-12-15.
  5. ^ Nakashima, Ellen (2013-03-28). "Little-known surveillance tool raises concerns by judges, privacy activists". The Washington Post. Retrieved 28 March 2013.

Further reading[edit]

  • Landau, S. (2010). Surveillance Or Security? The Risks Posed by New Wiretapping Technologies. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. ISBN 978-0262518741.
  • Petersen, J. (2000). Understanding Surveillance Technologies: Spy Devices, Their Origins & Applications. CRC Press. ISBN 978-1420038811.