Welcome!

Mobile IoT Authors: Derek Weeks, Pat Romanski, Mark Herring, Elizabeth White, Liz McMillan

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
"Evatronix provides design services to companies that need to integrate the IoT technology in their products but they don't necessarily have the expertise, knowledge and design team to do so," explained Adam Morawiec, VP of Business Development at Evatronix, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Raju Shreewastava, founder of Big Data Trunk, provided a fun and simple way to introduce Machine Leaning to anyone and everyone. He solved a machine learning problem and demonstrated an easy way to be able to do machine learning without even coding. Raju Shreewastava is the founder of Big Data Trunk (www.BigDataTrunk.com), a Big Data Training and consulting firm with offices in the United States. He previously led the data warehouse/business intelligence and B...
The 22nd International Cloud Expo | 1st DXWorld Expo has announced that its Call for Papers is open. Cloud Expo | DXWorld Expo, to be held June 5-7, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York, NY, brings together Cloud Computing, Digital Transformation, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps, Machine Learning and WebRTC to one location. With cloud computing driving a higher percentage of enterprise IT budgets every year, it becomes increasingly important to plant your flag in this fast-expanding busin...
Nordstrom is transforming the way that they do business and the cloud is the key to enabling speed and hyper personalized customer experiences. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Ken Schow, VP of Engineering at Nordstrom, discussed some of the key learnings and common pitfalls of large enterprises moving to the cloud. This includes strategies around choosing a cloud provider(s), architecture, and lessons learned. In addition, he covered some of the best practices for structured team migration an...
Recently, REAN Cloud built a digital concierge for a North Carolina hospital that had observed that most patient call button questions were repetitive. In addition, the paper-based process used to measure patient health metrics was laborious, not in real-time and sometimes error-prone. In their session at 21st Cloud Expo, Sean Finnerty, Executive Director, Practice Lead, Health Care & Life Science at REAN Cloud, and Dr. S.P.T. Krishnan, Principal Architect at REAN Cloud, discussed how they built...
In his Opening Keynote at 21st Cloud Expo, John Considine, General Manager of IBM Cloud Infrastructure, led attendees through the exciting evolution of the cloud. He looked at this major disruption from the perspective of technology, business models, and what this means for enterprises of all sizes. John Considine is General Manager of Cloud Infrastructure Services at IBM. In that role he is responsible for leading IBM’s public cloud infrastructure including strategy, development, and offering m...
With tough new regulations coming to Europe on data privacy in May 2018, Calligo will explain why in reality the effect is global and transforms how you consider critical data. EU GDPR fundamentally rewrites the rules for cloud, Big Data and IoT. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Adam Ryan, Vice President and General Manager EMEA at Calligo, examined the regulations and provided insight on how it affects technology, challenges the established rules and will usher in new levels of diligence arou...
Smart cities have the potential to change our lives at so many levels for citizens: less pollution, reduced parking obstacles, better health, education and more energy savings. Real-time data streaming and the Internet of Things (IoT) possess the power to turn this vision into a reality. However, most organizations today are building their data infrastructure to focus solely on addressing immediate business needs vs. a platform capable of quickly adapting emerging technologies to address future ...
No hype cycles or predictions of a gazillion things here. IoT is here. You get it. You know your business and have great ideas for a business transformation strategy. What comes next? Time to make it happen. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jay Mason, an Associate Partner of Analytics, IoT & Cybersecurity at M&S Consulting, presented a step-by-step plan to develop your technology implementation strategy. He also discussed the evaluation of communication standards and IoT messaging protocols, data...
22nd International Cloud Expo, taking place June 5-7, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and co-located with the 1st DXWorld Expo will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud ...
22nd International Cloud Expo, taking place June 5-7, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and co-located with the 1st DXWorld Expo will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud ...
DevOps at Cloud Expo – being held June 5-7, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York, NY – announces that its Call for Papers is open. Born out of proven success in agile development, cloud computing, and process automation, DevOps is a macro trend you cannot afford to miss. From showcase success stories from early adopters and web-scale businesses, DevOps is expanding to organizations of all sizes, including the world's largest enterprises – and delivering real results. Among the proven benefits,...
@DevOpsSummit at Cloud Expo, taking place June 5-7, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, is co-located with 22nd Cloud Expo | 1st DXWorld Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The widespread success of cloud computing is driving the DevOps revolution in enterprise IT. Now as never before, development teams must communicate and collaborate in a dynamic, 24/7/365 environment. There is no time to wait...
Cloud Expo | DXWorld Expo have announced the conference tracks for Cloud Expo 2018. Cloud Expo will be held June 5-7, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York City, and November 6-8, 2018, at the Santa Clara Convention Center, Santa Clara, CA. Digital Transformation (DX) is a major focus with the introduction of DX Expo within the program. Successful transformation requires a laser focus on being data-driven and on using all the tools available that enable transformation if they plan to survive ov...
SYS-CON Events announced today that T-Mobile exhibited at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. As America's Un-carrier, T-Mobile US, Inc., is redefining the way consumers and businesses buy wireless services through leading product and service innovation. The Company's advanced nationwide 4G LTE network delivers outstanding wireless experiences to 67.4 million customers who are unwilling to compromise on qua...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Cedexis 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. Cedexis is the leader in data-driven enterprise global traffic management. Whether optimizing traffic through datacenters, clouds, CDNs, or any combination, Cedexis solutions drive quality and cost-effectiveness. For more information, please visit https://www.cedexis.com.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Google Cloud has been named “Keynote 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. Companies come to Google Cloud to transform their businesses. Google Cloud’s comprehensive portfolio – from infrastructure to apps to devices – helps enterprises innovate faster, scale smarter, stay secure, and do more with data than ever before.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Vivint to exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st Cloud Expo, which will take place on October 31 through November 2nd 2017 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, California. As a leading smart home technology provider, Vivint offers home security, energy management, home automation, local cloud storage, and high-speed Internet solutions to more than one million customers throughout the United States and Canada. The end result is a smart home solution that sav...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Opsani 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. Opsani is the leading provider of deployment automation systems for running and scaling traditional enterprise applications on container infrastructure.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Nirmata 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. Nirmata provides a comprehensive platform, for deploying, operating, and optimizing containerized applications across clouds, powered by Kubernetes. Nirmata empowers enterprise DevOps teams by fully automating the complex operations and management of application containers and its underlying ...