As the discussion over wiretapping and foreign hacking still dominates the conversation in Washington, an unusually high amount of suspicious cell phone activity in the nation’s capital has caught the attention of the Department of Homeland Security, raising concerns that U.S. officials are being monitored by a foreign entity.
ESD America, hired preemptively for a DHS pilot program this January called ESD Overwatch, first noticed suspicious activity around cell phone towers in certain parts of the capital, including near the White House. This kind of activity can indicate that someone is monitoring specific individuals or their devices.
DHS confirmed the pilot program but did not comment on the suspicious activity.
“The Overwatch system is part of a 90-day pilot that was initiated on January 18, 2017,” the agency said in a statement. “The Overwatch System is managed by DHS, through ESD America Inc., a defense and law enforcement technology provider that provides technical security assistance to government and corporate clients.”
According to the ESD America source, the first such spike of activity was in D.C. but there have been others in other parts of the country.
Based on the type of technology used, the source continued, it is likely that the suspicious activity was being conducted by a foreign nation.
The news comes the same week that two Democratic lawmakers wrote to Kelly saying they were “deeply concerned” about hacking vulnerabilities in U.S. cellular networks.
“For several years, cyber security experts have repeatedly warned that U.S. cellular communications networks are vulnerable to surveillance by foreign governments, hackers, and criminals exploiting vulnerabilities in Signaling System 7,” wrote Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Rep. Ted Lieu (D-California). “U.S. cellular phones can be tracked, tapped, and hacked—by adversaries thousands of miles away—through SS7-enabled surveillance. We are deeply concerned that the security of America’s telecommunications infrastructure is not getting the attention it deserves.”
Julia Kimani contributed reporting to this story.