Is it feasible for hackers sitting near you to have some sort of RF listening device that uses your phone's transmissions to identify your name or other information that could be used to determine who you are? Would this be through the network, wifi, and/or bluetooth? If so, are there any protective measures that people can take that don't involve simply turning off transmissions?

  • 1
    Probably yes, and “it depends”. For example, if your “hacker” is has access to government resources to request records for your carrier, they would just use your phone’s unique ID to find out who it is registered to.
    – nbering
    Aug 30, 2018 at 22:34

2 Answers 2


AS Hugo stated, yes the phone can act as a tracker via it's IMEI & SIM card IMSI numbers. These are sufficient for a telco to identify the phone owner, but a third party can still identify the unique phone without necessarily knowing the registered owner. Even without actively using the phone, it pings towers to let the network know where you are in order to handle call routing for you.

Additionally with many modern smart phones, turning it off doesn't really turn it off, you need to physically remove the battery to make sure it's actually off. This can be problematic with many phones (Apple).

Putting the phone into "airplane mode" will stop it from talking to cellular towers. Unfortunately many smart apps collect WiFi SSIDs that they've seen and will report that information later after you come back online, providing an historic trail of electronic bread crumbs.

Faraday bags and such will only make your phone spike its power levels to punch through, rapidly killing the battery in the process.

  • I was under the impression that airplane mode usually shuts off all transmitters, including the WiFi chip. Wouldn't that imply that these "smart apps" would not be able to passively collect SSIDs since they would only be presented with a dead WiFi interface? For Android at least, I thought airplane mode actually deletes (brings down) the virtual network interface.
    – forest
    Aug 31, 2018 at 22:22
  • Forest, you can test this yourself in about 30 seconds. While connected to WiFi, place your phone in Airplane Mode. Now check your WiFi connection, it should still be connected. Sep 1, 2018 at 15:05
  • Oh that's creepy. Well, thanks for telling me! I'll look into it more.
    – forest
    Sep 1, 2018 at 19:17

Your phone could be used as a tracking device. If you have bluetooth or wifi on, "someone" could track you around using the unique numbers those interfaces provide.

Even now, with some fake cellular towers they can track your unique number signaling from the phone.

From that to reveal your true identity is a little more complicated. They should intercept your communications to extract valuable information, like email, not only the unique numbers to track you.

So, you should turn off your phone to not been tracked.

  • email? Should have SSL. Aug 30, 2018 at 23:48
  • @JBis, I'm not referring to the content of emails, but sure, all communications should be encrypted. Apple products beacon the name of the product and the owner trough DNS, in Spanish is something like iphone-de-Hugo
    – Hugo Glez
    Aug 31, 2018 at 14:27

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