Welcome!

Mobile IoT Authors: Liz McMillan, Elizabeth White, Pat Romanski, Janakiram MSV, Shelly Palmer

Related Topics: Mobile IoT

Mobile IoT: Article

Who's Calling?

Who's Calling?

Drug dealers love digital mobile telephones. It's not just being able to stay in touch with customers and suppliers on the move, nor the advantages of instantaneous communications in a very competitive industry. Drug dealers love digital mobile telephones for the security they offer - security and anonymity.

When we use the World Wide Web, we often assume that we're relatively anonymous. We visit various Web sites, knowing that the site owners are aware that someone has visited, but we assume that they have no way of finding out who we are.

In reality, it's neither difficult nor expensive to find out. The IP address (unique number assigned to your computer) is known by every site you visit or service you use, and while that address may be allocated to someone else later, the fact that it was allocated to you at that time will certainly be recorded somewhere. Local laws differ, but in the UK, an ISP will keep records of who had what IP address for three months, and make those records available to government offices on request.

A recent attempt to expand the offices that had automatic access to this information, to include local councils and health departments, was blocked only after public outcry, but it's clear that any government agency can request this information and generally get hold of it.

Strangely enough, you may be more anonymous at work, where your Internet access is likely to be routed through a proxy server (or NAT) so the whole company will share a single IP address. Of course, the best way to be anonymous on the Internet is to walk in to a cyber café and pay cash for your access; it feels less anonymous, but it's the only way to be sure.

Mobile Insecurity
Phone calls are no better. Analog mobiles in the UK were embarrassingly insecure, a fact highlighted by both Princess Diana and Prince Charles each being caught (separately) talking to "significant others" in 1989. Listening in to calls was just a matter of tuning a radio at the right time and I remember warning a client that a group of kids outside her office were cloning mobiles from the signals (collecting the information isn't illegal, only using it).

With the coming of digital and GSM, the networks touted the new standard as being completely secure, and criminals everywhere rejoiced. The encryption around GSM turned out not to be as secure as it should have been, with networks deploying a badly implemented version of the standard. The UK police (among others) now have access to scanners that will listen in to GSM phone calls with relative ease, but when we're making phone calls we generally rely on security through obscurity.

Listening in to trans-Atlantic calls routed through satellite is very easy, just a matter of a few hundred dollars of equipment and parking in the right place, but it's not very useful either. Thousands of calls are being routed at any one time, and finding the one you're interested in is next to impossible. However, listening in on a call is often less important than knowing that the call was made.

Making a phone call will often reveal the number you're dialing from. At the least, the fact that the call was made is stored with the phone company for billing purposes. In the UK the police are now routinely data-mining telephone records. Once someone is pulled for dealing drugs, or a similar crime, the police check his or her phone records and note every number called, or that has called them.

Then every phone number called, or called to, is checked; each of those numbers is compared. If a large number of people who speak to this dealer have another number in common, then that might be a dealer too. Compare records from a few dealers and you might even pick up another level, a distributor. In these circumstances it's not the content of the calls the police are interested in, just the fact that they exist.

Of course, it's not just drug dealers who have something to hide. The ability to pick up every number called by an individual has some potential in industrial espionage, not to mention cheating spouses and a myriad of other misdemeanors that would better remain private. Once the police and various government departments have routine access to such information, it's reasonable to assume that anyone with the money could gain access if they wished. Knowing exactly who a company talks to is valuable information, perhaps as valuable as knowing what's being said.

Of course, data mining gets you only a number; then it's a matter of looking up the name and address that match. Early mobile telephones required signing up for a contract and paying a monthly bill (with a credit check on name and address), but too many potential customers failed the credit check. Then there are the under 18's who can't legally take on credit without parental backing (some parents do underwrite their children's phone bills, but all the ones I know regret it!).

Then pay-as-you-go phones came into usage, paid for in advance and displaying a ticking down of money each time a call is made. They've proved massively popular. The networks also adore them - customers paying in advance! Not to mention that a percentage of those recharge cards are never activated - a service paid for and never used. Customers pay over-the-odds for the convenience of being able to run out of credit in the middle of a call, and the explosion of SMS usage can be attributed in part to the fixed cost of each message, making it easier for kids to manage their funds.

The Price of Anonymity
Without a credit check there's no reason for mobile phone users to register their name or address with the network. Indeed, it's perfectly practical to own a phone completely anonymously in the UK. Most companies will charge you a premium, around $70, for choosing to remain anonymous, as they won't be able to sell your details to advertisers; but this gives you a number without a name.

In the U.S., Virgin has just launched their mobile system, and is allowing anonymous usage; in fact they are encouraging it! The youth market Virgin is interested in will be able just to pick up the phone and use it, not fill in forms and get junk mail. No doubt American drug dealers will also be quick to become Virgin customers.

Proper anonymous Internet access also becomes possible, with a free ISP connected via an anonymous mobile phone. It becomes virtually impossible to find out who is sharing those MP3 files, or who posted that rumor that so affected your share price.

With only a phone number to go on, there is little the police can do, except phone it. Even the next generation of location-based systems is unlikely to be much use in this respect. Knowing that there's a drug dealer in Trafalgar Square just isn't useful, though probably true.

This leaves the police looking for John (as all drugs are bought from a man named John in a pub in East London), and hoping he's carrying his mobile phone when they find him.

More Stories By Bill Ray

Bill Ray, former editor-in-chief (and continuing distinguished contributor to) Wireless Business & Technology magazine, has been developing wireless applications for over 20 ears on just about every platform available. Heavily involved in Java since its release, he developed some of the first cryptography applications for Java and was a founder of JCP Computer Services, a company later sold to Sun Microsystems. At Swisscom he was responsible for the first Java-capable DTV set-top box, and currently holds the position of head of Enabling Software at 02, a UK network operator.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@ThingsExpo Stories
SYS-CON Events announced today that Datera, that offers a radically new data management architecture, has been named "Exhibitor" of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo ®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Datera is transforming the traditional datacenter model through modern cloud simplicity. The technology industry is at another major inflection point. The rise of mobile, the Internet of Things, data storage and Big...
"DX encompasses the continuing technology revolution, and is addressing society's most important issues throughout the entire $78 trillion 21st-century global economy," said Roger Strukhoff, Conference Chair. "DX World Expo has organized these issues along 10 tracks with more than 150 of the world's top speakers coming to Istanbul to help change the world."
SYS-CON Events announced today that DXWorldExpo has been named “Global Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Digital Transformation is the key issue driving the global enterprise IT business. Digital Transformation is most prominent among Global 2000 enterprises and government institutions.
While the focus and objectives of IoT initiatives are many and diverse, they all share a few common attributes, and one of those is the network. Commonly, that network includes the Internet, over which there isn't any real control for performance and availability. Or is there? The current state of the art for Big Data analytics, as applied to network telemetry, offers new opportunities for improving and assuring operational integrity. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jim Frey, Vice President of S...
"We provide IoT solutions. We provide the most compatible solutions for many applications. Our solutions are industry agnostic and also protocol agnostic," explained Richard Han, Head of Sales and Marketing and Engineering at Systena America, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
"We are focused on SAP running in the clouds, to make this super easy because we believe in the tremendous value of those powerful worlds - SAP and the cloud," explained Frank Stienhans, CTO of Ocean9, Inc., in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
DX World EXPO, LLC., a Lighthouse Point, Florida-based startup trade show producer and the creator of "DXWorldEXPO® - Digital Transformation Conference & Expo" has announced its executive management team. The team is headed by Levent Selamoglu, who has been named CEO. "Now is the time for a truly global DX event, to bring together the leading minds from the technology world in a conversation about Digital Transformation," he said in making the announcement.
"We've been engaging with a lot of customers including Panasonic, we've been involved with Cisco and now we're working with the U.S. government - the Department of Homeland Security," explained Peter Jung, Chief Product Officer at Pulzze Systems, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
The financial services market is one of the most data-driven industries in the world, yet it’s bogged down by legacy CPU technologies that simply can’t keep up with the task of querying and visualizing billions of records. In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Karthik Lalithraj, a Principal Solutions Architect at Kinetica, discussed how the advent of advanced in-database analytics on the GPU makes it possible to run sophisticated data science workloads on the same database that is housing the rich...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Massive Networks will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Massive Networks mission is simple. To help your business operate seamlessly with fast, reliable, and secure internet and network solutions. Improve your customer's experience with outstanding connections to your cloud.
Everything run by electricity will eventually be connected to the Internet. Get ahead of the Internet of Things revolution and join Akvelon expert and IoT industry leader, Sergey Grebnov, in his session at @ThingsExpo, for an educational dive into the world of managing your home, workplace and all the devices they contain with the power of machine-based AI and intelligent Bot services for a completely streamlined experience.
Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place October 31 - November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 21st Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the most profound change in personal and enterprise IT since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago. All major researchers estimate there will be tens of billions devic...
"The Striim platform is a full end-to-end streaming integration and analytics platform that is middleware that covers a lot of different use cases," explained Steve Wilkes, Founder and CTO at Striim, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Calligo, an innovative cloud service provider offering mid-sized companies the highest levels of data privacy and security, has been named "Bronze Sponsor" of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo ®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Calligo offers unparalleled application performance guarantees, commercial flexibility and a personalised support service from its globally located cloud plat...
"MobiDev is a Ukraine-based software development company. We do mobile development, and we're specialists in that. But we do full stack software development for entrepreneurs, for emerging companies, and for enterprise ventures," explained Alan Winters, U.S. Head of Business Development at MobiDev, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
SYS-CON Events announced today that DXWorldExpo has been named “Global Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Digital Transformation is the key issue driving the global enterprise IT business. Digital Transformation is most prominent among Global 2000 enterprises and government institutions.
In his opening keynote at 20th Cloud Expo, Michael Maximilien, Research Scientist, Architect, and Engineer at IBM, discussed the full potential of the cloud and social data requires artificial intelligence. By mixing Cloud Foundry and the rich set of Watson services, IBM's Bluemix is the best cloud operating system for enterprises today, providing rapid development and deployment of applications that can take advantage of the rich catalog of Watson services to help drive insights from the vast t...
SYS-CON Events announced today that EnterpriseTech has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. EnterpriseTech is a professional resource for news and intelligence covering the migration of high-end technologies into the enterprise and business-IT industry, with a special focus on high-tech solutions in new product development, workload management, increased effic...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Massive Networks, that helps your business operate seamlessly with fast, reliable, and secure internet and network solutions, has been named "Exhibitor" of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo ®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. As a premier telecommunications provider, Massive Networks is headquartered out of Louisville, Colorado. With years of experience under their belt, their team of...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Cloud Academy named "Bronze Sponsor" of 21st International Cloud Expo which will take place October 31 - November 2, 2017 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Cloud Academy is the industry’s most innovative, vendor-neutral cloud technology training platform. Cloud Academy provides continuous learning solutions for individuals and enterprise teams for Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform, and the most popular cloud com...