Triggerfish (surveillance)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

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]
  • 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.[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]

On May 26, 1993, Harris Corporation sent a theatening letter[6] to then publisher of Full Disclosure, Glen L Roberts regarding his publication of article(s) about their product named, Triggerfish. In the letter, Harris referred to his articles as "advertisements" and said, "Your issue No. 24 of Full Disclosure has been brought to my attention because of an apparently unauthorized advertisement on page 8 for a Harris law enforcement product referred to as "Triggerfish." It is my understanding that the publication of this advertisement was not previously requested nor authorized by Harris. The unapproved use of this advertisement constitutes a deceptive trade practice, which would potentially subject you and your newspaper to civil liability. Further, you have used our trademarks—Harris and Triggerfish—without permission." and "Lastly, you may have committed a felony under 18 USC 2512(1)(c)(i). This criminal statute prohibits the placement in a newspaper or magazine of an advertisement for an electronic product that is primarily useful for the purpose of surreptitiously intercepting electronic communications." Roberts apparently first wrote about the Triggerfish in 1991.[7]

References in popular culture[edit]

  • An unrealistic, mocked-up "Triggerfish device" was used in season three of the HBO show The Wire.
  • A functioning Triggerfish is shown in an episode of the TV series The X-Files.
  • A functioning Triggerfish is shown in an episode of the TV series Millennium.
  • In season 17, episode 18 of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, mention is made of using Triggerfish to locate a missing nun with a burner cellphone.

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.
  6. ^ "#GLR: Pre-Internet Nasty Gram, Triggerfish, and Stingray". GLR:.
  7. ^ " [14]".