Sunday, September 15, 2019

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Cyaan seh mi neva did a warn yuh – Tempa Anthony Red Rose

I was warned, several times over. I was told where the hot spots were in Kingston: New Kingston, Cross Roads, Half-Way-Tree Road and the transport centre, Papine, among the areas. I was warned that the incidence is at epidemic levels similar to chikungunya (CHIKV), and I needed to protect myself. However, just like CHIKV, I became a victim.

After my 'infection' each person I spoke with was either a victim or knew someone who was a victim. My victimisation took place on Monday, August 19, at about 5:50 pm at the intersection of Half-Way-Tree and Ruthven roads. I was jogging/walking along Half-Way-Tree Road on the left side of the road heading towards Emancipation Park. A line of traffic was turning left unto Ruthven Road so I stopped waiting to cross. A motorbike suddenly stopped in front of me and the rider grabbed my phone. I instinctively resisted. He held on and rode off with the phone. I ran in his direction, quickly realised the futility of my response, and stopped in resignation. This incident led me to investigate the market for stolen phones in Jamaica.

Cellular phones are ubiquitous in Jamaica. The GSM Association (GSMA) reported that, as at December 2018, Jamaica had 3.2 million mobile connections, 109 per cent subscriber identity module (SIM) penetration and 58 per cent mobile broadband. The 58 per cent is indicative of the number of smartphone connections. Other studies done by the University of Technology, Jamaica indicates that 95 per cent of teens have access to a cellphone, tablets or other mobile devices. Among this cohort, 90 per cent stated that they connected to the Internet via a smartphone.

Internationally, as smartphones have become more prevalent, device theft has similarly increased, especially in developing countries. This development prompted the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) to host a workshop in July 2018 on global approaches to combating counterfeiting and stolen information and communications technology (ICT) devices.

Crime statistics in Jamaica do not specifically record stolen phones; it is subsumed in the robbery category. There is, however, substantial anecdotal evidence to indicate that Jamaica mirrors the global trend. Even if the crime statistics reported stolen phones the data would not reflect actual incidences, as the majority of this crime is unreported. Most people indicated that cellphone theft was reported only if it involved another item of value or another reportable crime, for example, personal injury. The general expectations among victims are that stolen phones will not be returned anyway, so why bother.

The equipment manufacturers are aware of this problem and have provided device-based protection by way of applications and services to remotely track and wipe devices if they are stolen or missing. Apple provides 'Find my iPhone' service in the cloud and 'Google Find my Phone' can be used for Android devices, which can track your device through a global positioning system (GPS); lock the screen; delete contacts, photos, mobile payments; or remote wipe the phone. There is a caveat to these device-based protection — the device needs to access the Internet via cellular or Wi-Fi for it to work. Many people bypass this protection by powering up the phone in a location where there is no Wi-Fi and then flash the phone with a software like Odin. Flashing involves reprogramming your phone (unlocking) to change all the settings so that it can be used on another network or appears to be a new phone to the current network.

A second security level is network-based protection. A local example of this is where FLOW and Digicel would agree to block stolen phones from accessing the network. There is such an agreement between the two companies; however, it is unclear if this agreement is operational and the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) has indicated that there is nothing in its remit that addresses this issue.

The third level of technology-based security is the use of International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) numbers. IMEI is a mobile device's unique identification number on a mobile network. All mobile phone manufacturers are unconditionally required to allocate a unique IMEI to each device. The GSMA has created a blacklist, which contains the IMEI of devices reported stolen or lost. This is how the process works in theory:

(1) A victim reports device theft to their service provider (SP), who flags the device IMEI to their local blacklist.

(2) The SP uploads their IMEI blacklist to the GSMA IMEI database.

(3) Other contributing operators download the GSMA blacklist and block the device from using networks locally and internationally.
In practice there are several tools used to alter or duplicate IMEIs, and the ITU has reported that this is a critical issue especially for developing countries. In the case of Jamaica, the two players are primarily sellers of SIMs and therefore don't validate IMEI. It is not unusual for several devices to have the same IMEI on either of the two networks. This defeats the purpose of IMEI and prevents the network from blocking devices. Locally, service is tied to a SIM and not to a device.

Let's now examine the local market for stolen mobile phones. Based on our research, phones are stolen for three main purposes. The first is for resale. After the phone is flashed it can be placed on the reseller market as preowned/mint condition or brand new in box. Depending on the device, you can fetch up to $65,000. In some cases, a phone could be stolen and given as a gift to a favourite girl.

The second market is for parts. If we assume that the technical approaches mentioned above work and your phone is a useless brick, think again. The screen can be sold for up to $25,000, circuit board $20,000, and the housing $8,000. Usually, if Google or Apple successfully lock the phone, the circuit board is useless; however, tech-savvy individuals can still use it.

A third reason is to use the SIM for illegal purposes such as scamming, subscription fraud, or SIM swap scam. The service providers restrict the number of SIM individuals can purchase (up to four or five). Individuals who want to acquire additional access will use stolen SIMs that are not deactivated. Most of the market for these parts can be found in random tech stores, 'shops' in Mandela Park, or pawnshops. This research is by no means comprehensive, but provides a peek into the international and local market for stolen phones.

Smartphones have become an integral part of our lives. We hold them to our ears on the street and even while we are driving. We place them carelessly on tables in restaurants, and we store them in our pockets. They hold valuable personal information, including contacts, photos, e-mail, WhatsApp convos, banking information, browsing history, information on where we live and work, among other things. So when your phone is stolen it can be a bit disconcerting.

Despite all these technical approaches to prevent phone theft, there is no silver bullet. At the regulatory level there are several deficiencies in our current system that the OUR needs to consider, which I can explore in another paper. At the individual level, it is best to reduce your exposure by being careful of how you use your phone on the streets, especially in hot spots.

If your phone is stolen, report it to your service provider so that your SIM card can be locked and can't be used on another device. Use Google or Apple services to track and wipe your phone. If you have banking information on your phone, check your account and possibly change your password. I am required to make this final recommendation, even though I have not heeded it, report it to the police. Cyaan seh mi neva did a warn yuh.

Professor Paul Golding is dean of the College of Business and Management at the University of Technology, Jamaica. Send comments to the
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