Africa: old SIM cards are unsafe

2013-07-25 00:00

A SECURITY flaw on older SIM cards that makes them vulnerable to hackers may affect mobile phone users in Africa the most.

The error allows hackers to take remote control of the SIM card, according to research published by the GSM Association, a trade group that represents 800 network operators who use GSM technology for their networks.

The association said that the research on the vulnerability of certain SIM cards was led by German cryptographer Karsten Nohl, but that these SIM cards are no longer made in most parts of the world.

Africa could be among the most vulnerable areas because cellphones are widely used to conduct banking via mobile payment systems, using credentials stored on SIM cards.

Nohl said research showed there were about 500 million of these older SIM cards still in use worldwide. He said the crime could grow if other researchers started looking into the issue and found other ways to exploit the same class of vulnerabilities.

Once a hacker copies a SIM, it can be used to make calls and send text messages impersonating the owner of the phone, said Nohl, who has a doctorate in computer engineering from the University of Virginia.

All types of phones are vulnerable, including iPhones from Apple Inc, phones that run Google’s Android software and BlackBerry smartphones.

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