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Chinese cops cuff 1,500 in fake base station spam raid

Thousands of devices, hundreds of millions of unwanted texts

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China’s police have arrested over 1,500 people on suspicion of using fake base stations to send out mobile SMS spam.

The current crackdown, began in February, according to Reuters. Citing a Ministry of Public Security missive, the newswire says a group operating in north-east Liaoning province, bordering North Korea, is suspected of pinging out more than 200 million spam texts.

China's fearsome law enforcers periodically embark on crackdowns of this kind which, given the sheer size and scale of the Middle Kingdom, often amount to little more than a symbolic gesture.

However, mobile spam is a massive problem in China.

Some 200 billion unwanted messages were sent in the country in the first half of 2013 alone, according to a Xinhua report from late last year

Fake base stations are becoming a particularly popular modus operandi. Often concealed in a van or car, they are driven through city streets to spread their messages.

This Beijing News story from November 2013 tells a typical tale.

The professional spammer in question charged 1,000 yuan (£100) to spam thousands of users in a radius of a few hundred metres.

The pseudo-base station used could send out around 6,000 messages in just half an hour, the report said. Often such spammers are hired by local businessmen to promote their wares.

Trend Micro highlighted the problem in a recent expose of the Mobile Cybercriminal Underground Market in China.

GSM modems, internet short message gateways and “SMS servers” were all listed as available on the dark web for local cyber criminals to buy.

The latter is effectively a “fake base station”, in that it apparently sends out a high power signal which forces all mobiles in the area to disconnect from their legitimate base station and connect to it.

SMS servers cost around 45,000 yuan (£4,400), according to the report. ®

Mobile application security vulnerability report

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