The Star recently reported that the Hawks arrested two men and confiscated a machine nicknamed The Grabber, which is used for spying on cellphone users.
The two – a top businessman and a bank employee – were lured to the Irene Mall in a police sting operation that resulted in their arrest.
According to the report, the Israeli-produced machine, dubbed “The Grabber”, was installed in a Mercedes Benz Viano.
The Grabber is used for cellphone tapping, cellphone tracking, and as a cellular locator, and is reportedly worth over R25 million.
The Grabber can be used to intercept confidential national security information, which is then sold or exchanged with political enemies, The Star reported.
The newspaper stated that the machine “had been used to advance certain parties in commercial transactions”.
This type of equipment is highly regulated in South Africa, and can only be purchased with presidential authority.
According to The Star, the machine was purchased using “a fraudulently-acquired letter of authority from the South African government”.
How The Grabber works
MyBroadband spoke to a cellular security expert, who asked to remain anonymous, about The Grabber and how it works.
He said The Grabber is a “pick-up cell”, which joins the signal from nearby cellular base station.
The Grabber lets the target phone connect to it, which is referred to as “grabbing” the target phone.
The Grabber further boosts the phone’s signal to aid tracking of the targeted phone. It can then provide the location of that phone.
The device can also connect to a base station using its own SIM card. This makes it possible to relay and intercept calls from the target phone.
It is not certain whether it is possible to pass the target phone’s number on, or whether the caller number is withheld to make the system work.
It is also unlikely that it is possible for The Grabber to intercept incoming calls.
Whoever is using the device would need to know where the target phone is, in order to get in close proximity to then “grab it”.
The need for close proximity is why The Grabber is typically installed in a vehicle, which makes it mobile.
It is understood that this type of device has been successfully used to find the location of criminals and terrorists.