Thursday, July 10, 2014
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What Is Pinging

So, what does it mean to ‘ping’ a mobile phone? We’ve all heard of phone hacking by now, where you can access someones voice mail by using a pin code, or ‘blagging,’ where you can pretend to be someone else and obtain private information about their bank accounts, for example. But what does ‘pinging’ a mobile phone mean?

Pinging a mobile phone is finding out which mobile phone mast is nearest to the user’s phone. This information can then be used to locate a person who’s mobile telephone number you know.  This is allegedly used by law enforcement and/or police on a regular basis. To catch ‘naughty’ people and terrorists, and such like. It is normally the mobile phone provider that supplies this information, about mast locations etc. and you would normally have to have an account with them. For instance … when you dial 999 that location information is broadcast within the call to the emergency services operator.

If someone is carrying a mobile phone, that phone is constantly sending signals to the closest mobile phone mast. Even if the phone is switched off, the location of the mast will tell you, to within a few metres, exactly where that person is located. When they move, they can continue to be tracked via the various masts that their the signal is bouncing to … and from. Even when the phone is switched off.

Mobile phones can also be used as a listening device. It can be activated via a mobile phone mast, if you know the location. The phone becomes a mobile microphone, allowing someone to listen to everything that’s said within the range of the mobile phone.

So, to re-cap. Pinging is finding out which mobile phone mast a person can be located at. The mobile phone number needs to be known. The mobile phone company can provide this information … but you have to be allowed to have it.

In other news, you might have heard the sad news that Sean Hoare, a former NOTW reporter when his close friend Andy Coulson was Deputy Editor, was found dead at his home today. Unexplained but not suspicious, the police are saying. Now, this is probably a total coincidence and I’m sure that I’m barking up the wrong tree, but I hear that Sean may have mentioned the “pinging” technique in an interview he did with the New York Times … only last week.

Oh, and incidentally, Tom Alexander, CEO of Orange, T-Mobile, Everything Everywhere and previously of Virgin Mobile, has resigned today … for ‘personal reasons’. Apparently.

Just another coincidence I should imagine.

Probably.

 

 

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33 comments

  1. I reckon they’re gonna need a bigger net soon .. ;)

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  2. Well aware of it and never use my phone. :)

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  3. Partially right.

    If a phone is switched off its switched off. That means it doesn’t broadcast any signal. Now some smartphones will have diaries and such like so they do not totally switch off. But they only keep their clocks running not the phone bit. To test, recharge your phone and keep your phone on standby (don’t make any calls and don’t receive any). See how long it lasts. Now fully recharge and then switch off your phone and wait the same amount of time before switching it on again. If the battery indicator is low then it’s not really off.

    Mobile phones do know which cells they are talking to. Plus they can typically know the signal strength of around the 5 nearest cells. There are free databases where you can check the location of such masts. Smartphones can run software which can use this data to provide a semi-GPS service. The mobile phone company can also locate where the phone is – they have to to be able to route a call to the phone. Its accurate to within a few meters in built up areas but only to 100s of meters in rural areas and not at all where there is no signal.

    As for turning the phone on and using it as a bug – only if it’s a smart phone and you’ve managed to install some software on it. A cheap and cheerful one will not do such stuff. The only thing you can do with the cheap and cheerful one is send a badly formed SMS to crash them.

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    • The only way to be sure is to remove the battery ;-)

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      • Exactly what I was thinking.

        But I only do this when I am involved with seditious activities.

        Ampers

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    • Doesn’t need to be a smart phone to be switched into bugging mode. Doesn’t need special software to be installed either. Can be done remotely and has been done remotely for at least 12 years to my knowledge. Your only clue would be finding you need to charge it more often than usual.

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  4. Well now .. all this is both interesting and enlightening ..

    You see, to me “Pinging” has always been that sensation when the old “Fanny” radar acquires a new female contact ..

    This often leads to the next stage, which is known as “Glimping” which involves a rapid advance on the contact, to carry out a CTR (Close Target Reconnaissance) ..

    Once a close “Glimp” has decided whether (or not) the target is worth engaging, will decide whether one proceeds to the next stage of “Perving” or one breaks off the contact & returns to one’s beer ..

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  5. “There is learning, there is understanding and there is acceptance…” – now where did I read that…..?

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  6. Am I right in assuming that this pinging thing only applies to the newer all singing and dancing phones , the much older very basic things should free from abuse in this way shouldn’t they ?

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  7. I am happy to be corrected if any of the following is wrong. “Pinging” is the time it takes to send a request for a packet of data, and for it to be returned. It’s the same as you will see in the first part of a broadband test with sites like Speedtest.net. If just one mast is within range only the radius from it is possible, but as soon as the same phone can access a second mast 2 values can be obtained, and by simple trigonometry the location determined.

    I’m sure I’ve read that this process can be further refined by cross referencing with public and private WiFi hotspots. Thanks to Google’s intrusive Street View cars, which were secretly trawling for SSID’s whilst taking pictures, there is now a huge database of these which are usually accurate to within a few 10′s of metres. Modern “Smart” phones can make use of both systems, and as many also include GPS functionality their movements can be tracked continuously.

    As you’ve said turning the phone off is little help – it’s only equivalent to a standby function, and many of the circuits are still powered. The only sure way to prevent this is to physically remove the battery, but that’s not possible on many devices now (still think iPhone’s are so cool??).

    If the public weren’t so utterly wedded to 24/7 communication they would be much better off with a really basic phone – some of the cheap jobs sold by Tesco’s etc still give SMS functionality, and aren’t locked to a particular network. So long as the battery is quickly removable just power it up to make/receive calls & messages, then shut it right down. The networks will still know where you are, but won’t know how you got there!.

    And me – I still use an 8 year old NEC G9 “brick”- thanks to an extending aerial it works where no modern phones will, and can be useful for self defence….

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    • “still think iPhone’s are so cool
      And who, I wonder, was responsible for negotiating the contract, and clinching the deal, with Apple so that Orange could have the rights to sell the iPhone. Only O2 up to that point.

      Hmmmm …

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  8. Location determination by ‘Pinging’.

    I thought that “formal” approval had to be sought to compel a phone company to disclose a particular phone’s location.

    It’s not something a run-o-the-mill hacker could do.

    Hence the reason it (allegedly) cost NI hacks so much per ‘enquiry’.

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    • Exactly.
      Has to be approved by a senior officer I believe and that’s just when you are looking to ping when someone is texting or talking on the phone. If it’s ‘off’ a special signal has to be sent and that requires even higher approval.

      Hmmm ……

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  9. Pinging is the name of what many computer tech folks did (and still do) to see if a computer is running and connected on a network.
    If you want to test whether another computer is running from a windows XP PC simply click the start button (bottom left) choose run, and into the box type the word ping, a space, then the IP number of the computer to be tested. For example ping 132.185.240.21 and this will tell you if one particular BBC computer is running by sending a reply. Pinging 70.39.234.231 will confirm this blog is alive but don’t pester friend’s computers needlessly – it’s rather like ringing the doorbell and running away. You can check any IP number here http://www.coolwhois.com/.
    Obviously ‘pinging’ a mobile phone needs a fixed ID other than a temporary IP but it’s essentially the same process – hence the name.

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  10. Ping!

    Very informative, thanks Max and all the commenters here for the education, my phone is still atttatched to the wall and has a little handle to crank it up…bugger but your arm hurts after a couple of hours of typing one handed on the interfret!

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  11. For the benefit of those banging on about pinging computers above, this has nothing whatsoever to do with an ICMP echo request and reply, which is what you’re talking about.

    Same colloquial name, entirely different concept.

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  12. I am trying to find a man that sexually molested my children (both young boys ages 6 and 8) so that the police can take appropriate actions!! They will not do anything until I can tell them an area where he is allegedly staying!!! Any way I can do this with only having his number??? His name is Joey Wayne Nelson from Minnesota. Google him and you will see that I am not joking!!

    Thank you,
    Desperate mother!!

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  13. i am happy TODAY

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  14. When a phone is off it will not be transmitting and thus cannot by used to track location. Assuming no spyware has been put on the phone it cannot be used as a microphone.

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