Home Office discusses thief-proof phones
Solution for problem that doesn't exist
The UK Home Office yesterday met with handset manufacturers and mobile networks to identify ways in which mobile phones could be "secured by design".
This follows John Reid's comments last month.
Despite virtually eliminating mobile phone crime as recently as six weeks ago, the Home Office has been in discussions with the industry about how mobile phone crime can further be reduced, and has come up with some ideas for discussion.
Most of the ideas revolve around some mechanism for automatically shutting down a handset when it's been reported stolen - sending a coded SMS or similar - but that opens up wonderful hacking possibilities when the secret code is broken, and given the blacklisting of phone identifiers (IMEIs) it's not clear how often stolen phones are ever used.
The government's favourite topic, biometrics, is also suggested, but anyone who's tried to use a fingerprint system after sanding wood, welding, or even painting, will know just how quickly one can become persona non grata to such systems.
More esoteric biometrics will no-doubt be suggested, and rejected on the grounds of cost.
The idea of a mobile phone reporting its location back to the police is attractive, and under discussion. This is possible though network operators now, at least roughly, though you can see why the Home Office likes the idea of being able to accurately track a mobile phone on demand.
Far more interesting are discussions about how the police might be able to make more use of mobile phones recovered from suspects - how to maximise the value of all those call records and stored texts, and perhaps make use of that tracking system mentioned, in advance of a phone being stolen.
All this is driven by the apparent epidemic in mobile phone crime. Apparently, two per cent of the UK population has had a mobile phone nicked: though how many lied to get a free upgrade we don't know. We do know that 52 per cent of robberies included a mobile phone, though it seems likely a lot of those are just taken to prevent a swift call to the police. Where a mobile is the only thing stolen it's almost always (69 per cent) because it was left unattended and some opportunist grabbed it.
So the network operators and manufacturers have each sent someone along to appease the Home Office and discuss impossible technologies for solving a problem which the Home Office has told us no longer exists - makes you glad it's a Friday. ®
Oh no, not again...
"The UK Home Office yesterday met with handset manufacturers..."
No, it didn't.. because there's no such thing as the "the UK Home Office". And I don't even mean that the Home Office **for England & Wales** had its structure changed as a consequence of John Reid's reforms...
... I mean that the UK doesn't have a "Home Office". There certainly isn't one for Scotland, and I'm pretty sure that Northern Ireland doesn't have one either... :-(
I stand corrected
The only reason i know a little about this is that my parents used to own a secondhand electrical shop. We very rarely used to buy mobiles due to all the above problems, of not knowing if they were going to be cut off or if they were legitimate. (We always took I.D. for all stuff we bought, liaised with police for up to date stolen good's lists and if someone came in that was suspect we'd pass CCTV footage onto the police etc, My mother was a very honest person)
There was a dodgy shop in the same town that got busted for buying in hundreds of stolen phones and changing the IMEI numbers, a police officer told us all about the opertation and how they wen't about it. (unsoldering the chips etc)
We closed the shop last year as there's very little money in secondhand electrical goods, 4 years ago we could sell a dvd player for £60-80 (Sony, Panasonic etc) and make £20 on it, end of last year we were selling cheap arse dvd players (Technika, Alba, AudioStar) for £12 with a remote, and £5 without which we're only making at most £4-5 on, cheaper than the actual discs.
How changed does an IMEI need to be?
Martin Blunden is correct in stating that IMEIs stored in write-once memory cannot be updated, other than by replacing the chip.
That is being circumvented.
The latest wheeze is to rewrite the accessible copies of the IMEI and then to flash the phone software so it merely ignores the last, unchanged copy of the IMEI on the write-once device. The new IMEI is supplied by the phone whenever it is challenged.
If one is to believe the claims of the flashing-software vendors, there is scarcely a phone that cannot be nobbled.
The readily availability of such software indicates the extent to which there is an illegal demand, since there is no legitimate reason for changing a phone serial number.
It is still done just by attaching the mobile to a PC.