IFF Tool Showcase #10: StingWatch

An IMSI-catcher is a telephony eavesdropping device used for intercepting mobile phone traffic and tracking movement of mobile phone users. Essentially a “fake” mobile tower acting between the target mobile phone and the service provider’s real towers, it is considered a man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack. Wikipedia article

Employed, among others, by the US federal government and by state and local police departments across the USA, the Stingray is a mobile technology that simulates a cell phone tower and can intercept call and SMS text content, including the call histories of all mobile hand sets within range as well as their location.


Racial bias in police violence has sparked a heated discussion in the US in recent years and cell-cite sumulators, also known as Stingrays, have gained increased media and some public attention as recent reports indicate their frequent use in criminal investigations and at political demonstrations such as Black Lives Matter.

The tools required to discover and investigate the presence and location of theses Stingrays have so far been difficult to obtain and operate, most of them either closed source or requiring root access on your smart phone. The goal of StingWatch is to be a platform independent tool that anybody can use, with the purpose of enabling ordinary people to employ their phones in monitoring and then mapping the use of Stingrays in their vicinity.

StingWatch is a simple app for Android that will do a couple of things:

  1. It will notify its users when Stingray use is detected, so that they can put their phones into airplane mode and avoid having their information collected.
  2. It will send detection locations to a central server so that Stingray use can be mapped on a public website, eventually combining with Census data to examine the demographics of those being targeted.
  3. By exposing use of this secret technology, Stingwatch will hopefully contribute to public pressure to limit its use.

Ultimately, StingWatch is a tool for policy change. Its main purpose is to prove that Stingray technology is often misused to disproportionately target certain minority groups and other civil groups. The developers hope this information will reinforce the larger debate around these devices and ultimately lead to their abolition.

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