In the age of smartphones, location-based services are widely available, and mobile phone tracking is now a toy. However, tracing a phone that is off is thought to be difficult, and for good reason. Of course, in a perfect world, you would have downloaded one of those Android tracking apps or iPhone tracking apps, but most people find out only after their phone is lost.
Your phone will stop interacting with surrounding cell towers when you turn it off, and its location will only be known to the area it was in at the time. GPS location services are useless since they always require cellular and/or internet access to get the location information.
A Washington Post, investigation claims that the NSA has the ability to track cell phones even while they are off. Furthermore, this is nothing new. According to the article, NSA has been employing this method, known as “The Find,” since September 2004. This method was applied in Iraq. According to a special operation officer contacted by Post, it assisted in the identification of “thousands of new targets, including members of a blossoming al-Qaeda-sponsored insurgency in Iraq.”
How NSA can track turned off phones?
The Washington Post article doesn’t clarify this. However, the NSA could only follow switched-off phones if the devices were infected with Trojans. Unless the battery is removed, that would compel the phones to keep sending out a signal even when the phone is in standby mode. The compromised handset won’t have a power source to send signals when the battery is removed, thus it won’t be able to communicate its position information.
However, infecting phones in order to find out where they are is nothing new. The FBI used spyware to infect suspects’ cell phones and record data even when they were off, according to a 2006 CNET article. It’s conceivable that the NSA employed comparable methods in Iraq, albeit on a greater scale.
Tracking Switched off phones with dedicated chips
Errata Security’s Robert David Graham draws attention to the subtle differences between the words “off,” “track,” and “phone.” According to Graham, “the best approach to track a ‘off’ phone is to covertly insert a chip connected to the phone’s power source.” Therefore, even when the phone is “off,” the extra chip would still be “on.” In this instance, it is the chip rather than the phone itself that is being tracked. This should, in layman’s terms, explain why the USA banned Chinese networking firms like Huawei and ZTE.
Even though some of the older feature phones can appear to be powered down, they may not actually be. Every ten minutes or so, they would power on a baseband processor to retrieve SMS messages but not phone calls. The definition of “off” is relevant in this situation. Some phones can still be traced even after the battery has been taken out.
Today’s smartphones have unibody construction and non-removable backs, making it practically impossible to remove the battery. If your smartphone is infected with trojans, it can still be followed even when it is turned off. The Lenovo Z5, a forthcoming smartphone from Lenovo, guarantees 30 minutes of voice calls even when the battery is at zero percent. Does that mean that even after a smartphone goes off, it is not truly “off”?
How to locate a lost cell phone that is turned off?
The meaning of “OFF” is quite important in this context, as we said earlier. Even if the SIM card has been removed from the phone, someone can still be using Wi-Fi to access the internet. There are a few choices in these situations. Let’s examine each one in turn.
1. How to track an Android phone that’s switched off?
Utilizing Google’s Find My Device feature is the first step in recovering a lost Android phone. You can try to find your Android device by going to the Google “Find my Device” page while logged into your Google account, assuming your phone is still online and connected to your Google account. The last connected site will be found, in the worst scenario.
Checking your Google location history is the alternative. You should be able to track where your phone went if it’s still signed in to your Google account.
Keep a watch on it as well. As an alternative, if someone using your phone takes pictures, they can end up being synced with your Google Photos account.
2. How to locate iPhone that’s turned off?
Not just Android users are susceptible to losing their phones. iPhones are also prone to escaping from pockets. If you use your phone for work, this is a big issue. For instance, if your phone isn’t working, you can’t make calls. Fortunately, if you use a Mac, there are several things you can do. Use the Find My iPhone function alone. If your phone is off, though, you might need to take additional measures to make sure that, if at all feasible, you can find your misplaced device.
You can use your other Apple device or your friend’s iPhone to access Find My through iCloud. You will be able to see it on the map if your device is on. If it is off, you can touch on “Lost Mode” to view the last place your smartphone was located.
When activated, it remotely locks your device, remotely shows your phone number when a personalised message is displayed, and locks your device automatically. This mode of the Find My app enables your location services remotely so you can locate your device.
The alternative is to use Google Maps and enable Location History, in which case you should be able to locate the final location that was tracked before the phone was turned off. If you’re unsure whether you enabled Location History on Google Maps or not, click this page, choose the day your iPhone disappeared, and look at the most recent location!
So can you track switched off phones?
Technically, a company like the NSA might modify the code of your phones to follow them even when they are off. It would be unsettling to think that millions of people were being monitored via the aforementioned method, especially in light of how extensive the NSA’s data collection has been since the 9/11 attacks. So far, the leaks have shown that the NSA has a sizable database of phone calls made by millions of Americans and foreigners, but that this database does not contain location information. However, the pace at which new breaches are appearing should keep privacy zealots on edge.
The best course of action (assuming your phone runs Android) if you are reading this article AFTER losing your phone is to look through your Google Location History. That ought to help you determine where the phone was when it was turned off. With iPhones, you must use a web browser or another Apple device to access the Find My iPhone function, then search for the most recent location.
FAQs about Tracking Switched Off Phones
Our readers have been posing inquiries about this subject in the past, both in the comments section below and elsewhere. Therefore, we’ll try to provide a succinct response to each below.
1. Can police track a switched-off mobile phone?
The police really can’t monitor a switched-off phone any better than regular folks would, as we have detailed in great detail above. However, they might request that the cellular service providers use the IMEI number to trace (and restrict) a smartphone. In this method, even if your phone has been stolen and factory reset, the operator can still locate it using the IMEI. No operator would act in such manner unless requested to do so by the police or another law enforcement agency.
2. Can you locate a dead phone?
The battery may have run out of power or the phone may be off. When it comes to locating a phone, everything is the same. Depending on the kind of phone you have, following the instructions above is your best bet. For the best possible indication of where your phone might be, utilise Find My if you were using an iPhone or Android Device Manager if you were using an Android phone to view the most recent position.
3. Will removing SIM cards stop tracking?
We are aware that some users who frequent this page are curious about whether deleting or switching SIM cards will stop phone tracking. NO, is the answer. One of the numerous methods of location tracking is cellular tracking. Google Maps and iCloud have their own device tracking capabilities. IMEI tracing can be used by the police and the mobile operator/service provider to find the mobile. Even Wi-Fi and Bluetooth can be used to track whereabouts.
4. How to track a stolen phone using WhatsApp?
Naturally, WhatsApp is a fantastic tool for sharing and monitoring the whereabouts of friends and family. However, that does not imply that it may be used to locate a stolen phone (turned off or not). WhatsApp requires you to expressly disclose the location with a person you trust, just like any other location-sharing service. Undoubtedly, you shouldn’t expect such from a thief. When your phone is lost or stolen, WhatsApp itself advises that you immediately lock your SIM card.
5. Can my phone be tracked if location services are off?
The query above regarding deleting SIM cards to disable tracking is relevant to this one. Turning off Location Services does not totally disable GPS tracking; it merely limits it. Furthermore, a technique known as triangulation of signals can be used to track a phone’s location using cellular data. So, if other things are still ON, your phone can still be monitored even if location services are disabled.