Dirtbox Devices: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

dirtbox devices


Americans are outraged by news of “dirtbox devices.” Under this Justice Department program, planes are scanning the cell phones of ordinary Americans. While this program is designed to capture fugitives and criminals, many Americans feel that these dirtbox devices are an invasion of privacy. Here’s what you need to know about the dirtbox device program.

1. Dirtbox Devices Are Part of a Secret Spy Program

According to the Wall Street Journal, “dirtbox devices” are being deployed on airplanes that mimic cellphone towers. These fake cell phone towers onboard planes are designed to hunt for criminals. However, WSJ notes that this secretive program is “snagging a large number of innocent Americans” every time the government looks for criminals.

2. Your Cell Phone Carrier May Have Been Unaware of Dirtbox Programs

Mac Rumors notes that cell phone carriers may have been in the dark about this dirtbox program:

“Justice Department officials did not confirm or deny the existence of the program when questioned, stating that a discussion of the matter could ‘allow criminal suspects or foreign powers to determine U.S. surveillance capabilities,’ but a representative said that Justice Department agencies comply with federal law and seek court approval for their activities.

A Verizon spokesperson said that the company was not aware of such a program and did not participate, while spokespeople from AT&T and Sprint declined to comment. “

3. Dirtboxes Take Their Name From Boeing

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According to Engadget, the name “dirtbox” comes from the name of a Boeing subsidiary. The dirtboxes, which are reportedly about two square feet in size. They are called “dirtboxes” because they are made by DRT, aka Digital Recovery Technology Inc., a Boeing subsidiary.

4. Dirtboxes Are Operating Out of 5 US Metro Airports

Check out the video above from the American Civil Liberties Union. It speculates about what government officials could do with your location data.

The Guardian notes that dirtbox flights are running out of at least five US airports in metropolitan areas. ZDNet adds that dirtbox data could be used to target a phone’s location within a three meter radius.

5. Dirtbox May Use Mobile Phone Design to Intercept Data

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Business Insider has some thoughts about how a dirtbox could work:

“Mobile phones are programmed to connect with the closest signal tower…Boxes in planes could automatically assure mobile phones they are the optimal signal tower, then accept identifying information from handsets seeking connections.

Fake cell towers could then pass connections onto real signal towers, remaining as a conduit with the ability to tune into or block digital transmissions.

Hackers refer to such tactics as ‘man-in-the-middle attacks.’…

The program is reportedly in place to reveal locations of mobile phones associated with criminals or those suspected of crimes, but collect data about other handsets that connect.”