Tag Archives: Mobile telephony

The Poor Get Their Motorolas

I’m intrigued by this program to offer cheap handsets for the poor (from The Register), but I have my doubts. The Register says

Motorola has been selected by the GSM Association (GSMA) to supply the handsets for its programme to provide mobile telephony to people in developing countries. Motorola will commence delivery of these phones in the first quarter of 2006, as the second phase of the GSMA’s Emerging Market Handset (EMH) programme gets underway. The stated aims of the programme are to advance the social and economic development of emerging markets through mobile communications. It includes an initiative to provide mobile phones that cost less than USD30 apiece onto the market in poorer nations.

Where I live you can get a second-hand handset for less than that. Indeed, in Indonesia handsets are so cheap everyone, and I mean everyone, has at least one. Wouldn’t it make more sense to give developing countries (ok, ‘emerging markets’) second-hand phones from the developed countries (‘emerged markets’). Wouldn’t it be better just to give these things away?

Cellphone Terrorism

My old colleague Nick Cumming-Bruce writes in today’s IHT on Thailand’s demand that prepaid cellphone users register before they get a SIM card as police continue on the trail of cellphone terrorists.

Interesting piece: the basic idea is that you must hand over your name and address before getting a phone number as a measure to deter terrorists, who have been shown in Thailand and elsewhere to use phones to organise attacks and trigger bombs. Roaming customers visiting Thailand may also have to register.

But how effective is this going to be? First off, I think the practice of prepaid registration is more widespread than this. When I was in Australia last year I had to submit to questioning over the phone by a network employee, who disarmingly assessed whether I was who I said I was before he activated the card.

The other thing is that there’s no way this kind of thing would work except in places where the cost of a prepaid card is high enough to deter fraud, and even then it probably wouldn’t. In a place like Indonesia — where cellphones have been widely used by terrorists to plan, coordinate and trigger attacks — people buy SIM cards for as little as $2; what’s to stop a thriving gray or black market of these cards appearing, as folk offer themselves as registrants. Needless to say, there are 100 reasons why people don’t want others to know — especially, but not only the government — what number they’re using, and they may have nothing to do with blowing things up.

Wrong solution to a problem, I think. If you really wanted to do this properly, I would go for the credit card solution: Use software to track usage patterns and look for unusual behaviour. Cellphone data must be massive but it must also reveal all sorts of interesting data that is not necessarily personally intrusive: where someone is, how they use their phone — voice, SMS, MMS, GPRS — and how often they use it. Monitoring this kind of data would take some time, but it might reveal patterns of usage that expose terrorist-like behaviour.

Terrorists, for example, tend to keep a phone for just certain calls, so usage is very low. Of course, that also describes grandmothers given a phone for emergencies, but coupled with location data — terrorists tend to move around quite a lot — and other data might offer some revealing glimpses.

Maybe this is already being done. For sure, security agencies must have been mining the historical data of phones used by captured terrorists: Interesting patterns may be contained therein. But my tupennies’ worth is that by forcing folk to register their SIM cards is not going to deter terrorists: It’s just going to force them to use a more clandestine channel. Much better to keep them in the open and find a better way of looking for clues there.

The Vulnerability Of VoIP

Listened to an interesting talk by Emmanuel Gadaix of the Telecom Security Task Force at the Bellua Cyber Security Asia 2005 conference in Jakarta. Emmanuel spoke of the security threats to mobile telephony, and while he pointed to the weakness of SS7 signalling — the part of mobile telephony where networks talk to one another — he feels the real threat will come from VoIP. Of Signaling System 7, Emmanuel says: “determined hackers could close down a whole country’s mobile phone network”.

But of VoIP he was more concerned. With many smaller vendors pushing out VoIP services into an already bustling market, vulnerabilities abound: “A lot are still at the beta stage,” he says, “so there will be problems.” And while he stressed that he had noticed that VoIP providers were more aware of security issues than their traditional counterparts, the threat was a significant one. “Full IP telephony will eventually happen,” he says. “And telcos must learn to prevent future threats. You will not be able to ignore them.”

The kind of threats: Denial of service or quality of service attacks, interception of voice traffic, injection of voice traffic (such as SPIT, or voice spam), anonymous and untraceable calls, etc. etc.

This week’s column – Airtexting, Airport Pickups and Airheads

This week’s Loose Wire column is about mobile phones and how they are not just changing us, but the world we live in:

 The thing about mobile phones is that they have changed how we communicate (via 160-character bursts of text), how we perceive the world (it’s never less than a phone call away, unless we left it at home in which case we go back for it). But how are our phone habits changing the world we live in–and in the process changing what our mobile phones can do?

Full text at the Far Eastern Economic Review (subscription required, trial available) or at WSJ.com (subscription required). Old columns at feer.com here.

News: mobile phones and the decline of society

Mobile phones make you rude
 
 
 From the excellent Techdirt website, a collection of stories about how rude we are getting with our mobile phones: “Yet another study about mobile phone rudeness (going along with the one we posted earlier this week has determined that a stunning 71% of people are now consistently late for social events because they can reschedule at the last minute with their mobile phones. 70% say they’ve completely canceled meetings at the very last minute using their mobile phone, and 78% say they’ve gotten out of “awkward situations” by sending a text message rather than calling. From the sound of this, it appears to be focused on the UK, where text messaging is a lot more popular than the US. Also, the study found that 89% of people think others need to have better etiquette when using a mobile phone. Yet another example of the way mobile phones are changing the way people go about their day (not always for the better).”
 
Couldn’t agree more.