IMEI tampering software giving security agencies sleepless nights

Fresh worries have cropped up for the nation’s central security agencies as two software programmes, Spiderman and Chinaking, were found aiding the task of changing IMEI numbers of phones manufactured in China. The matter was brought to light by the Madhya Pradesh police when it faced such a case and approached security agencies after it found no relevant law to tackle it.

An IMEI or International Mobile Equipment Identity number is a 15-digit code that is assigned to a handset and is unique to GSM, WCDMA and iDEN mobile phones as well as some satellite phones. To view the IMEI number of a handset, dial *#06#. It works on most keypads. The IMEI number flashes on the operator’s network when a call is made and allows authorities to track user. Understandably, with IMEI cloning, security and law enforcement agencies will find it tough to know who the actual user is.


Spiderman, Chinaking causing worries

The MP police charged the miscreants under Sec 65 of the IT Act, which says, “Whoever knowingly or intentionally conceals, destroy, or alter any computer source code used for a computer, computer programme, computer system or computer network, when the computer source code is required to be kept or maintained by law for the time being in force, shall be punishable with imprisonment up to three years, or with fine which may extend up to two lakh rupees, or with both.”

The goverment’s run in this respect is not unheard of. In a shocking revelation, the Parliament wasnotified of over 1,300 cases of IMEI cloning in India between 2009-2012. Minister of State for Communications and IT Milind Deora elaborated in a written reply to Lok Sabha, “The number of cases reported where the same IMEIs have been used in more than 100 cell phones during the last three years (2009, 2010, 2011) are 749 while 569 cases are reported during the current year (2012).”

When asked whether import of unbranded mobile phones posed any security risk, Deora shared that in 2009, the Ministry of Commerce had banned the import of mobile phones without IMEI numbers or with all zeroes IMEI numbers.

Deora shared that the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) had issued instructions to mobile phone operators to not process calls from handsets with IMEI numbers not available in the updated IMEI database of GSMA, no IMEI numbers or one with all zeroes. As per instructions, such calls were to be rejected w.e.f. November 30, 2009.  He added, “There are instances where mobile phones without proper IMEI have been noticed. It is difficult for security agencies to legally trace a target with such phones when required.”

Deora shared that currently there is no online solution that can be put to action to eliminate the use of duplicate and fake IMEI handsets. “However, the issue of use of non-genuine and duplicate IMEI in our mobile network has been acknowledged and a technical committee has been constituted to study and suggest the possible solutions to eliminate the use of non-genuine and duplicate IMEI,” he added.


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