Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Research on Cell Phone Safety

Here's a report compiled by my group partner (Amin Malik) and I on cell phone safety:

 In an increasingly digitized world, our private information is becoming more and more public and identity theft has become a very real danger in today's high tech modern society. An important way in which we access and exchange information is through the use of mobile phones, thus making mobile communication, a very susceptible target for identity theft. In this day and age, proper knowledge about cell phone information safety is a vital component of any education regarding information technology. 

Cell phone fraud is defined by the Federal Communications Commissions as the unauthorized use, tampering or manipulation of a cell phone or service. As you can imagine, this definition covers a wide range of illegal cell phone activity, including cell phone hacking, cloning, tapping, and subscriber fraud (to name a few). The diversity of the different avenues through which cell phone fraud can be committed makes the likelihood of cell phone fraud being committed much greater. Therefore, a comprehensive education on secure cell phone usage and privacy requires knowledge of many different types of cell phone fraud.

 With each type of cell phone fraud we hope to include a brief overview including how the fraud is committed, some statistics related to the topic, and hopefully a summary of a few preventative measures that can be taken against this fraud.
The first form of cell phone fraud that we will be examining is cell phone tapping. Cell phone tapping is unauthorized electronic eavesdropping on a telephone transmission. It is generally the form of cell phone fraud that most often comes to mind when one thinks of cell phone fraud. This is due to cell phone tapping's portrayal in film and television where it is often used as a plot device. Cell phone tapping however is very much a reality as there currently exists for -purchase spyware that allows you to listen in on cell phone conversations. These services are generally purchased over the Internet from websites specializing in spy technology and the customers are usually people eavesdropping on cheating spouses, employees wasting company time, and worried parents trying to keep tabs on the babysitter at home watching over their kids. Users of cell phone tapping technology can also be high profile targets, such as those involved in politics and legal cases . The websites are usually based in Taiwan, Thailand and the United Kingdom and the prices vary from $60.00 to $3,000. The purchase of this type of spyware is legal but the unauthorized use of them is not. Joe Farren, spokesperson for the Wireless Association, says, “It's very clear, without their express permission, you can't listen in on someone's phone calls, you cannot read their text messages, you can't track their movements. You can't do any of those things and there are numerous laws being broken.” If your phone line is being tapped, the phone company has the ability to stop it. Before stopping it however, they are required to verify whether or not the wiretapping is legal or not. If it is illegal, then the phone company will inform you and law enforcement to remove the device. However, if it is indeed legal, then you will not even be informed that your phone is actually being wiretapped. The federal government can be given authorization to wiretap a phone line by an official court order and by having just cause. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act, 18 USC 2516 also stipulates that any of these “legalized intrusions to privacy” must involve felonies and are limited to monitoring only unlawful activity. Any irrelevant information that is gathered during the wiretap cannot be utilized.  The average time limit to these types of legal wiretaps is about a month. Cell phone tapping has only recently been being used for the express purpose of identity theft. Cell phone owners sometimes transmit sensitive personal information over the phone and identity theft fraud relies primarily on these lapses in security. There are physical signs that can help you tell whether or not your phone is being tapped, namely a warm battery, hearing unexpected beeps or clicks during conversations and the cell phone turning on unexpectedly even when it is not in use. It is almost virtually impossible to detect a wiretap without the help of your phone company so consumers should be wary of products that say that they can. Traditional wiretap detectors attempted to measure voltage drop and changes in the characteristics of the phone signal but more recent tapping devices do not alter the characteristics of the phone signal at all, making these detectors obsolete and useless. There are ways people can protect themselves against having their identities stolen via wiretap. One way is keeping tabs on where your phone is at all times and making sure no one has a chance to download spyware onto it. Installing a security password and taking the battery out of your phone whenever it is not in use are also very good preventative measures against wiretapping, although this method may be a little inconvenient. Using new prepaid cell phones also helps protect against identity theft because these phones are less susceptible to having personal information accumulate on them because they are limited-use and inexpensive. Consumers should keep in mind that more expensive top-of-the-line cell phones are the most vulnerable to identity theft due to their wireless capabilities and Internet access.
Cell phone fraud can also be committed when a phone is lost or stolen. Most people store sensitive information on their cell phones, information which could be abused if it falls into the wrong hands. Many people often record private information such as their debit card PIN numbers, social security numbers and credit card PIN numbers on their phone. More commonly however, people store pictures of themselves and their family and friends, information that could be used to easily identify the owner of the phone and to determine a lot of other information about them. Sensitive private information could also be gathered from text messages. One method of collecting private information through text messages is texting questions inquiring after private information to the contacts present on a stolen phone. An example of this is sending a text to the owner of the stolen phone's spouse asking, “Hey honey, I forgot our PIN number for the bank again. Can you text it to me? Thanks!” More and more personal information is accumulated onto your phone with every use so losing your phone or having it stolen is a very dangerous thing to happen. To protect yourself from this form of cell fraud, you can avoid storing sensitive information on your phone. Also, it might be wise to avoid using names like Mom and Dad and instead use their proper names in your phone book. In addition, any pictures that may give a cell phone hacker valuable information should be removed. Finally, if you lose your phone, be sure to cancel the service immediately.
A third type of fraud is cell phone cloning, which involves someone making an illegal clone of a legal phone and using the same serial number so that the legitimate cell phone service subscriber is billed. Essentially, the “thief” can make all the calls they want without any cost. This method of cell phone fraud has been found to be prevalent in areas with a high immigrant population because immigrants want to avoid the high cost of calling home. A method of cell phone fraud that provides for the same outcome as cell phone cloning is subscriber fraud. This is accomplished by someone using another person’s name and serial number to subscribe to a cell phone plan and then having the plan billed to the person’s name on the account. Paying close attention to your cell phone bills can catch both of these types of cell phone fraud. For cell phone cloning, make sure you do not have any unknown charges on your account and for subscriber fraud be sure to not pay for any services you did not actually subscribe to.
We hope that you now feel a little more informed about the ways in which you can protect yourself from cell phone fraud. The most important thing is that you are aware of the methods in which your cell phone privacy can be abused. For further information on this topic we have included some links below.


  1. Hi its really very nice blog,very useful information..Mobiles

  2. This was an excellent investigation of some of the primary issues related to fraud and cell phones. As discussed in class, this is one of the more recent areas to emerge regarding mobile devices. Understandably, many cell users do not yet know the risks associated with fraud and, therefore, cannot plan for it. Your research shows the research that is slowly revealing the strategies users should consider to protect themselves. In some cases, as your report noticed, invading someone's info can be quite easy. It's not yet clear what can be done to make sure users don't accept or reply to unknown users who are trying to tap into their information. It's just too tempting to respond to someone claiming to be a relative or friend. Your point about prepaid phones appears to offer some home for protection. It will be interesting to see how this evolves in the future and whether many individuals feel it is worth the effort to interact with "temporary" devices or prepaid plans than it is for the more comfortable plans most of us have.....thanks for the information!