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Bloke accused of seizing control, redirecting calls, pretending to be the boss A Texas radio station claims the software developer hired to build its mobile app has "gone rogue" – and is attempting to take control of the station. KCOH, a talk radio station in Houston, has filed a lawsuit [PDF] in the Harris County Court seeking a restraining order against Johnny Taylor and his company, Mobile Encryption Technologies, to restore control of its phone system, smartphone app and online streaming accounts. It is alleged Taylor has been intercepting calls and emails to the station from listeners and advertisers while claiming to be the general manager. He has also been accused of trying to wrest ownership of the KCOH brand, and hijacking and then shutting down the internet-streaming app he built for the station. Mobile Encryption Technologies did not respond to a request for comment at the time of publication. According to the court filing submitted this week, KCOH recruited Taylor to build a mobile application to stream its talk radio broadcasts online.
In exchange for the work, Taylor was given a regular weekly time slot at the station to host his own tech show – and for the past three years, he has hosted that program. Now, it is claimed, Taylor has tried to take over the whole outlet. "Unknown to plaintiffs, the defendants used the opportunity to design the app as a way to steal and misappropriate the plaintiffs' customer/client lists and intercept phone calls to the radio station," the filing alleges. "The extent of their computer mischief at the station is just being uncovered." Describing Taylor and his company as a "computer vendor run amuck", the station claims he not only seized control of the radio app – by refusing to turn over the passwords – but also installed malware in the phone systems at the station to redirect incoming calls. Since then, KCOH – which bills itself as "the oldest black talk radio station in Texas" and has over six decades interviewed celebs from Stevie Wonder to Barack Obama – claims Taylor has answered calls from fans and potential advertisers while claiming to be the boss.
It says he also withheld administrative access to their online streaming accounts, effectively freezing it out on the internet. Citing what KCOH calls "openly hostile actions and demonstrated intent to damage and take over vital radio station operations", the filing seeks to force Taylor's company to turn over all the login credentials for the app and its live-streaming services – the station plans to transfer the streams to a new mobile app – and bar him from accessing listener and advertiser account information and intercepting any phone calls. The station also wants a jury trial to decide whether or not Taylor should cough up damages for his alleged behavior. ® Sponsored: Want to know more about PAM? Visit The Register's hub
reader comments 26 Share this story Julian Oliver has for years harbored a strange obsession with spotting poorly disguised cellphone towers, those massive roadside antennae draped in fake palm fronds to impersonate a tree, or even hidden as spoofed lamp posts and flag poles.

The incognito base stations gave him another, more mischievous idea. What about a far better-disguised cell tower that could sit anonymously in office, invisibly hijacking cellphone conversations and texts? Earlier this week, the Berlin-based hacker-artist unveiled the result: An entirely boring-looking Hewlett Packard printer that also secretly functions as a rogue GSM cell base station, tricking your phone into connecting to it rather than your phone carrier’s tower, effectively intercepting your calls and text messages. “For quite some time I’ve had an interest in this bizarre uncanny design practice of disguising cell towers as other things like trees,” says Oliver. “So I decided to build one into a printer, the most ubiquitous of indoor flora, and have it actually antagonize people’s implicit trust in these technologies.” Oliver’s fake printer, which he calls the Stealth Cell Tower, could potentially eavesdrop on the voice calls and SMS messages of any phone that’s fooled into automatically connecting to it.
Since it sits indoors near its victims, Oliver says it can easily overpower the signal of real, outdoor cell towers.

But instead of spying, the printer merely starts a text message conversation with the phone, pretending to be an unidentified contact with a generic message like “Come over when you’re ready,” or the more playful “I’m printing the details for you now.” If the confused victim writes back, the printer spits out their response on paper as a creepy proof of concept.
It’s also programmed to make calls to connected phones and, if the owner answers, to play an mp3 of the Stevie Wonder song “I Just Called to Say I Love You.” After five minutes, the printer drops its connection with the phone and allows it to reconnect to a real cell tower. It's a bit different than other printers on the inside. Julian Oliver Oliver’s creation isn’t intended merely to stage an elaborate office prank. He wants to demonstrate the inherent privacy flaws of the cellular connections our phones depend on. His Stealth Cell Tower, after all, is no different from the devices known as IMSI catchers, or “stingrays,” that police use to hijack cellphone connections and spy on and track criminal suspects. “GSM is so broken and phones are so desperate to get hooked up that they’ll just hop onto anything that looks like a cell tower,” Oliver says. “IMSI catchers are most commonly deployed at protests.
It’s worrying, when you’re looking at activist movements organizing themselves over SMS and calls.” Instead, he says, his mischievous printer should serve as a reminder to the paranoid to end-to-end encrypt their communications. He recommends the free encryption app Signal. “My project is intentionally built to humiliate GSM in a sense,” says Oliver. “It’s broken, and we need to encrypt our stuff end-to-end.” Oliver built his spy printer from easy-to-buy hardware: A Raspberry Pi minicomputer, a BladeRF software-defined radio, two GSM antennae and of course, a Hewlett Packard Laserjet 1320 printer. He’s also released the code for Stealth Cell Tower on his website. But don’t try this hacker trick at home—or at the office. Oliver admits his printer would break plenty of laws if used without certain safeguards.
In the US, for instance, it likely violates the Wiretap Act and Federal Communications Commission regulations.

Civil rights groups have even alleged that Baltimore Police broke the law when they used the same IMSI catching technique on criminal suspects. Oliver says that if he eventually displays the printer in a gallery or museum, he’ll consult his lawyers and post warnings that anyone who enters the room consents to have their phone’s communications intercepted. “The whole idea is to lure a phone over to an object in the room for this brief encounter, to create an unsettling, critical break,” says Oliver. “If you don’t want your phone to behave oddly, you should turn it off.” Listing image by Julian Oliver
Hiding in plain sight An engineer has shown how you can sneak a tiny cellphone base station into an innocuous office printer. The idea is the brainchild of New Zealand's Julian Oliver, who was inspired by the Stingray cellphone snooping technology now in widespread use by the cops and FBI. He was looking to see how such tech could be hidden and what better to do this in than the humble office printer. The system uses an HP Laserjet 1320, which is both in widespread use around the world and also has a good amount of free space inside the casing. Oliver then added a RaspberryPi 3 and BladeRF x40 software-defined radio, along with a couple of antennas and some cabling to link into the printer's power supply. "The Raspberry Pi 3 was chosen after failed attempts to acheive stable YateBTS performance on the Intel Edison (tiny - would’ve saved space!), Beaglebone Black and even an I-MX6 Marsboard," he said. "Unlike the antiquated OpenBTS, YateBTS really seems to need those extra cores, otherwise ignoring accelerators like NEON on the Cortex A8/9 platforms." The printer still does its main job of spewing out documents, but now – using code Oliver developed and published – it also acts as a fake cellphone tower that detects nearby phones and sends them SMS messages. Genius-level trolling The computer also harvests the IMEI number for the phone and whatever other information it collects from the devices when they connect to it. He rigged it up so that this information is printed out, and the phone will also receive a random call that plays them Stevie Wonder’s I Just Called To Say I Love You. While the printer in its current design doesn't have malicious intent, it would be easy to set it up to pump out SMS malware or possibly perform man-in-the-middle attacks against unsuspecting workers.
It would also make a very useful surveillance device. ®