Mobile phones have become a major part of our everyday life. On the one hand, India’s mobile phone market has grown rapidly in the last few years on the back of falling phone tariffs and handset prices, making it one of the fastest growing markets globally. On the other the number of mobile phone subscribers is exceeding that of fixed-line users. The mobile phone subscriber base has already crossed the 50-mn mark.
Today millions of mobile phones users, be it Global System for Mobile communication (GSM) or Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA), run the risk of having their phones cloned. And the worst part is that there isn’t much that you can do to prevent this.
Such crime first came to light in January, 2005 when the Delhi police arrested a person with 20 cell phones, a laptop, a SIM scanner, and a writer. The accused was running an exchange illegally wherein he cloned CDMA-based mobile phones. He used software for the cloning and provided cheap international calls to Indian immigrants in West Asia. A similar racket came to light in Mumbai resulting in the arrest of four mobile dealers.
What is mobile phone cloning?
Mobile cloning is copying the identity of one mobile telephone to another mobile telephone.
How is a phone cloned?
The “cloning” occurs when the account number of a victim telephone user is stolen and reprogrammed into another cellular telephone. Each cellular phone has a unique pair of identifying numbers: the electronic serial number (ESN) and the mobile identification number (MIN).
The ESN/MIN pair can be cloned in a number of ways without the knowledge of the carrier or subscriber through the use of electronic scanning devices. After the ESN/MIN pair is captured, the cloner reprograms or alters the microchip of any wireless phone to create a clone of the wireless phone from which the ESN/MIN pair was stolen. The entire programming process takes 10-15 minutes per phone. Any call made with cloned phone are billed to and traced to a legitimate phone account. Innocent citizens end up with unexplained monthly phone bills.
What is an ESN/MIN pair?
The ESN is the serial number of your cellular telephone. And the MIN is simply the phone number of the cellular telephone.
How can mobile phone thieves detect ESN/MIN pair?
Cellular thieves can capture ESN/MINs using devices such as cell phone ESN reader or digital data interpreters (DDI). DDIs are devices specially manufactured to intercept ESN/MINs. By simply sitting near busy roads where the volume of cellular traffic is high, cellular thieves monitoring the radio wave transmissions from the cell phones of legitimate subscribers can capture ESN/MIN pair.
Numbers can be recorded by hand, one-by-one, or stored in the box and later downloaded to a computer. ESN/MIN readers can also be used from inside an offender’s home, office, or hotel room, increasing the difficulty of detection.
How is the ESN/MIN pair programmed in another phone?
To reprogram a phone, the ESN/MINs are transferred using a computer loaded with specialised software, or a “copycat” box, a device whose sole purpose is to clone phones. The devices are connected to the cellular handsets and the new identifying information is entered into the phone. There are also more discreet, concealable devices used to clone cellular phones. Plugs and ES-Pros which are about the size of a pager or small calculator do not require computers or copycat boxes for cloning. The entire programming process takes ten-15 minutes per phone.
What is the impact of cloning?
Each year, the mobile phone industry loses millions of dollars in revenue because of the criminal actions of persons who are able to reconfigure mobile phones so that their calls are billed to other phones owned by innocent third persons. Often these cloned phones are used to place hundreds of calls, often long distance, even to foreign countries, resulting in thousands of dollars in air time and long distance charges. Cellular telephone companies do not require their customers to pay for any charges illegally made to their account, no matter how great the cost. But some portion of the cost of these illegal telephone calls is passed along to cellular telephone consumers as a whole.
Many criminals use cloned cellular telephones for illegal activities, because their calls are not billed to them, and are therefore much more difficult to trace.
This phenomenon is especially prevalent in drug crimes. Drug dealers need to be in constant contact with their sources of supply and their confederates on the streets. Traffickers acquire cloned phones at a minimum cost, make dozens of calls, and then throw the phone away after as little as a days’ use.
In the same way, criminals who pose a threat to our national security, such as terrorists, have been known to use cloned phones to thwart law enforcement efforts aimed at tracking their whereabouts.
Do GSM and CDMS sets run the risk of ‘cloning’?
Looking at the recent case, it is quite possible to clone both GSM and CDMA sets. The accused in the Delhi case used software called Patagonia to clone only CDMA phones (Reliance and Tata Indicom). However, there are software packages that can be used to clone even GSM phones (e.g. Airtel, Hutch, Idea). In order to clone a GSM phone, knowledge of the International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) or instrument number is sufficient.
What are GSM and CDMS mobile phone sets?
CDMA is one of the newer digital technologies used in Canada, the US, Australia, and some South-eastern Asian countries (e.g. Hong Kong and South Korea). CDMA differs from GSM and TDMA (Time Division Multiple Access) by its use of spread spectrum techniques for transmitting voice or data over the air. Rather than dividing the radio frequency spectrum into separate user channels by frequency slices or time slots, spread spectrum technology separates users by assigning them digital codes within the same broad spectrum. Advantages of CDMA include higher user capacity and immunity from interference by other signals.
GSM is a digital mobile telephone system that is widely used in Europe and other parts of the world. GSM uses a variation of TDMA and is the most widely used of the three digital wireless telephone technologies. GSM digitises and compresses data, then sends it down a channel with two other streams of user data, each in its own time slot. It operates at either the 900 MHz or 1,800 MHz frequency band.