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Report details how mobile phones are tracked in warzones

Telecom and cybersecurity software firm Enea has put out a report detailing some findings on how mobile phone tracking is being used for military intelligence gathering in Ukraine.

Andrew Wooden

January 23, 2024

2 Min Read

The report examines the various methods employed to gain military intelligence through the tracking of mobile devices on the modern battlefield, which Enea says is the first time ‘a complete perspective, including military radio-centric and mobile network-centric methods, has been offered in a single report.’

It is based on research of open-source material and data from Enea’s mobile network Threat Intelligence Unit, and focusses on the ongoing war in Ukraine as an example.

After the Makiivka strike on New Year's Day 2023, the Russian defense ministry stated that the use of mobile phones by their forces allowed Ukraine to locate the target for the attack, according to the report. Apparently this was a matter of dispute within informed circles, but a ‘simulation’ by Enea in the report claims to show that it may have been possible for Ukrainian forces to track signals from the Russians’ mobile phones and thereby locate them.

“The possibility that this attack, described as a significant loss for the Russian forces, was initiated after mobile device tracking underscores the consequences of mobile phone usage in war zones,” says the associated release.  

The report divides the various methods used to track mobile devices on the battlefield in Ukraine into 3 categories – radio-enabled location tracking, network-enabled location tracking and device-enabled tracking. The full report goes into a lot of detail about how these methods technically work, which you can check out here.

The point of all this is so that civilians and military personnel can ‘evaluate the risks and benefits of bringing mobile devices into war zones and assess how to minimize risks if mobile device use is required,’ so says Enea.

“Our comprehensive analysis of the mobile battlefield reveals the complexities and evolving role of mobile networks in warfare,” said Cathal Mc Daid, VP Technology at Enea and lead author of the report. “This report brings an important understanding of how phones are tracked on the battlefield, adding crucial insights for telecom, military and government policymakers to enhance security measures and effectively leverage technological advancements in the field.

“It builds and expands upon our previous research, which showed how important commercial telecom networks are for the security and resilience of a country facing hybrid threats, and the need for network security to help protect a country's networks.“

At last year’s MWC we caught up with Ukrainian operator Kyvstar, who detailed the ongoing difficulties in keeping mobile networks active in Ukraine during the continued conflict.

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About the Author(s)

Andrew Wooden

Andrew joins Telecoms.com on the back of an extensive career in tech journalism and content strategy.

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