PLI Podcast: Aaron Turner, Mike Vallez

Posted on 23 March 2011 by


When it comes to mobile devices in the law enforcement world, there’s great news and there’s pretty bad news.

The great news is that there is a wide range of applications out there to choose from that will make the life of a cop easier and more productive – even safer.

The bad news is that there is a lot of research going on every day on attacking mobile devices – the handsets, the signals and the towers.

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To look at both sides of this issue, we had two conversations. First, from a Washington security conference where they both were speaking, Nick spoke with Aaron Turner, a former Microsoft security executive and researcher at the US Dept Of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory, about the kinds of research being conducted by criminals into how mobile devices can be used for evil. Aaron raises some interesting points, chief among them:

  • Mobile applications that leverage accelerometers and GPS positioning technologies can be used for evil as well as for good.
  • Hobbyist hackers can build cellular intercept equipment for about $1500. The OpenBTS community provides a rapidly improving set of technological capabilities to open source mobile hackers: A cell-tower in a box.
  • Mobile communications should be considered as insecure as two-way radios – which is, after all, exactly what they are. “There is no integrity on mobile voice communication today.”
  • Mobile device GPS applications have been recently shown to be trivially jammable – that is, a $30 hack can be used to jam GPS signals.
  • The price of secure handsets should fall to approximately the $800 range – significant, but no longer unobtainable.
  • Not very many people seek evidence on smartphones, and it is actually not that difficult to do. If a 16-year-old can jailbreak an iPhone by watching a video on YouTube, so can you.
  • That said, mobile device forensics are far more challenging than PC forensics – there’s no “write-block” mode, and the image changes with each reboot. But mobile devices can and should be used to guide investigations.

Lest we all get so depressed that we start cancelling our cellular subscriptions, along comes Michael Vallez. Dave and Nick spoke with Mike via Skype – Mike in Tampa, Dave in Texas and Nick in Boston.

Mike is a retired Tampa police officer, the search-engine optimization and social media strategist for USIS, an Altegrity company, and owner of a couple of great webites including CrazyMike’sApps and Technology Cop.

Mike joined us to describe the top three or so mobile applications that no cop can live without.

The conversation was pretty far ranging – and if we give you the five apps, then you wouldn’t have an incentive to listen to the podcast! Okay, okay:

Then Dave mentioned the app he uses most often while doing fugitive work: iPhone Voice Memo, to read and memorize license plates to call in later.

We’re definitely going to have Mike and Aaron back on the podcast soon – it was a great couple of conversations.