Best iFixit teardown ever: FBI tracking bug

AHKiCiDSVmDk2VPB.jpeg Ifixit and Wired got together to do a teardown of an FBI tracking gadget: "The device was loaned to us by a person who found the device on their car, and is similar to the one Yasir Afifi recently found underneath his own vehicle. The hand-assembled device is comprised of a GPS unit for receiving the car's position, an RF transmitter for relaying your location to the interested authority (aka the FBI), and a set of sweet d-cell lithium batteries that power the whole enchilada. But we didn't stop there, of course." Tracking device teardown [iFixit]


  1. Boy, I’ll bet that thing would really look like a bomb if they x-rayed it in the mail room at the Hoover building. They’d probably explosively detonate their own tracking device.

  2. Great tear-down. The total cost to put one of these together must be pretty low – makes them disposable and cheap to use in large quantities.

    What I really want to know is: Will it blend?

    1. I wonder if the following could be done:

      People start assembling these things like crazy.

      Said people assign frequencies to the RF xmitters that are close to the one that has been disassembled.

      Would it be possible for a privacy-interested group to actually jam FBI trackers?

      I’m not saying I support this course of action, but it seems like it wouldn’t necessarily be illegal.

  3. i just hope that all involved are *far* *far* away from the gadget’s last known position. then again, it would be interesting to turn it back on and see who comes looking

  4. If I found one of these under my car, I’d be terrified that it was some sort of pipe bomb.

    1. If I found one of these under my car, I’d be terrified that it was some sort of pipe bomb. As would the guards where I work.

  5. Those things must be expensive. Best thing to do, if you find one on your car, keep the D-cells for yourself, toss the rest into the recycling bin.

    Or someelse’s recycling bin.

    After you wipe the prints…

    1. I’d say pull the nice batteries, chuck in some cheap D-cells, and slap that puppy on a greyhound bus. Maybe even some drained ones, so they’ll just have a rough idea that it was heading off into the distance, before it dies.

  6. It’s reasonable to assume that if I comment on this, I’ll find one of these stuck to the bottom of my old Chevy.

    Good thing I don’t drive it much. They’d have a bit of trouble sticking one of these to the bottom of my fixie.

    Those batteries won’t be replaced by alkaline cells – they’re 3.6V. And they’re $30 apiece!

  7. Hmmm, that battery pack looks like it would make a good ‘self-defense’ weapon.

  8. The accompanying Wired article is quite a read. Apparently, the Animal Liberation Front is a badass organization that requires FBI surveillance.

    Why aren’t the FBI spending 99.9% of its resources on finding the guys at Goldman Sachs responsible for the housing bubble?

    1. An organization that does bombing and arson? Yeah, I would say they’re “badasses” worthy of FBI surveillance.

      1. Yeah, the same badasses that have somehow never harmed anyone physically with their actions. By design.

        I’m pretty sure the white collar criminals that now run this country have caused, directly and indirectly, millions of deaths around the world – not to mention far more economic damage than the ALF or ELF could ever inflict.

        The FBI’s priorities are awfully strange… unless you realize they’re pawns being used to protect the really bad guys by scapegoating minor threats.

        1. Firebombing for political reasons = terrorism, plain and simple.

          There’s more than one of these things. You act like that’s all they’re doing

        2. Perhaps the US chapter is mostly involved with ponies and fluffy bunnies, but in Europe they have perpetrated death threats and arson, including harrasment of individuals who are far removed from the cruelty ALF is protesting against. While I sympathise with their cause, their methods are both reprehensible and counterproductive.

          1. Actually, the European cells really do have a history of being far more violent. I’m not familiar with US cases involving casualties, but I could be wrong.

    2. nixiebunny #11 “Why aren’t the FBI spending 99.9% of its resources on finding the guys at Goldman Sachs responsible for the housing bubble?”
      They did, but the trackers just showed that their office chairs mostly stayed in their offices.

  9. Lazy G-men, whatever happened to the good old days when they got in a car and tailed you everywhere?

    That said, yes, removing the device and placing it on someone else’s car (preferably similar make and model) is the best option.

    Or maybe this is the dummy device, and the REAL tracking device is tiny and hard to find and is still on your car.

  10. I’m trying not to get too paranoid about this, but it’s difficult….

    The key part of the Wired article is that this is the older model, and the newer ones don’t need the bulky battery holder, making it much harder to spot.

    Does one need to get a bug sweeper to find the smaller model?

  11. If I found one of these I’d be torn between attaching it to the bumper of a city bus and taking it on my bike out to the middle of the woods somewhere with a rope and hoisting it 50 feet up into the air. Then leave a game camera nearby and see if I get any pictures of them trying to get it back down again.

    It’s unlikely they’d be able to hide one on my bicycle though, and for my van, it’d be the most boring tracking ever; it goes to the dump and back every Saturday, and to the home improvement store every 3 or 4 weeks.

    I probably don’t have to worry about it though since my skin isn’t brown, so I can’t be a terrorist. Right?

  12. Lots of people have suggested attaching it to another vehicle (although doubtless what’s legal when the feds do it would land an ordinary citizen in court). I think a boat would make a more entertaining choice than a road vehicle: picture the consternation in the local FBI office as they try to work out how your car can be six miles out to sea.

    I don’t recommend trying to take it on an aircraft, as you don’t want to have to explain yourself to two government agencies simultaneously.

  13. I’d attach it to a UPS delivery van. Imagine their consternation when I suddenly quit making left turns around town.

  14. I imagine it would be rather hilarious to place one on a car belonging to someone who works in a “high value” facility of some sort. Once they are parked at work you can call in an anonymous tip to a local news station about a possible “car bomb”. The FBI spies will have no choice but to watch while the bomb squad ritualistically destroys their tracking device on live television.

  15. As fun as all those “put it on another vehicle/bear/boat” fantasies are, I’m sure the FBI would find (or make up) a law to charge any such prankster with if anyone actually tried that.

  16. Hello I’m from the FBI.

    Put that back together and give it back to us. You’re vandalizing government property. I cannot stress enough that you must reassemble that device before returning it. Actually, just put it on the bottom of your vehicle. Don’t worry we don’t need a warrant.

  17. Turn it into a sort of chain letter: “Enclosed in the package I have mailed you is an FBI tracking device. Please mail/fedex/UPS it to some other random/interesting person that live far away. Don’t break the chain!”

  18. Presumably if you don’t need a warrant, it’d be legal for you or I to stick one on Robert S. Mueller’s car, right?


  19. Take it off your car, drive it down to a boat ramp, and throw it into the river or lake. Their tracker will see it approach the river, then either disappear, or sit on the bottom, marking the spot of your “watery grave.”

    You could also attach it to a school bus or a garbage truck. Better yet, put it on some rich banker’s car.

  20. A better hack would be to alter the GPS device to transmit bogus coordinates. I can think of a location in Pakistan that would raise some eyebrows.

  21. I’d be interested in the exact physical configuration on the vehicle. GPS antennas typically need an unobstructed view of the sky. If that part of it were under the car it would have a hard time deterimining a location.

  22. What frequency was it transmitting on – is there any way to intercept or eavesdrop on the data?

  23. Ahh…

    By far the best option:
    1. Drive to some very public area, like Oxford street in London
    2. Bump somewhere lightly for a good excuse to start looking under the car to see if it’s alright to continue.
    3. Be very surprised to discover the device.
    4. Call journalists and call police about suspicious device attached under your car.
    5. Enjoy!

  24. That 4 lb. electric degaussing magnet, you remember, from about 30 yrs ago that you plugged in and it erased video tapes — I still have one — should make mincemeat of this device in about 30 to 60 seconds. Try it without removing the device from the vehicle, just have to plug it in and get under the vehicle in some manner to scan with the magnet. THEN remove the device and tell us if it’s still working

  25. Actually, the best option, if you are indeed a bad person doing bad things, is to leave it on the car where you found it and adjust your plans accordingly. You should be able to conduct your criminal activity by making allowance for the fact that you know where the tracking device is *and* the FBI does not know that you are aware it is there. That gives you the upper hand, the other options do not.

    1. Heh… the icing on the cake is getting a subpoena for the FBI’s log of your location as your alibi and laughing at them as they hand it over.

  26. I think that a major assumption here is that, if Yasir Afifi’s device is from the FBI, they all are…
    You really don’t know WHO put it there, with all the outsourcing going on…
    Could be an completely independent corporate surveillance operation, or military, maybe a privatized company working for the government, or other?
    The only thing you can be sure of is that the government/corporate partnership is doing their best to screw over the citizens of America, in the name of keeping us safe from terrorism.
    Red China’s doing better than us economically, I think someone over here likes their way of doing things, with an IRON FIST.
    What’s the real difference, if the government runs the corporations, or the corporations run the government, either way the citizens lose.

  27. Why not just slap on a gps-enabled cellphone?
    And jimkirk; they stick them below plastic bumpers.

  28. “Why aren’t the FBI spending 99.9% of its resources on finding the guys at Goldman Sachs responsible for the housing bubble?”

    Bill Black said they started to, and AG Mukasey called them off.

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