Intelligence: SIM Card Crackdown


October 16, 2008:  Pakistan has blocked the use of 10.5 million unregistered (anonymous) SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) cards for cell phones. These SIM cards are the type favored by gangsters and terrorists. In most parts of the world, you can move your cell phone service from one phone to another by simply removing the small (25x14mm) SIM "card" from one phone and inserting it in another. SIM cards can also be bought just for the minutes stored on them, and these "anonymous" SIMs are popular with gangsters, and terrorists. Police have long noticed that terrorist bombs are often set off using a cell phone with an anonymous SIM card. It's not uncommon to raid a terrorist hideout and find hundreds of anonymous SIM cards.

Algeria recently did the same thing, cutting off service for over three million anonymous cards. In both countries, users are supposed to supply an ID before buying a SIM card. But even the anonymous cards provided police with useful information. Police can take captured SIM cards and extract a lot of information. Not so much from the SIM card, but from the traffic that has passed through that phone. Satellite phones are even more vulnerable, and captured SIM cards often identify specific sat phones being used by the bad guys.

The Taliban and drug gangs know of their vulnerability, but cannot run their operations without these communications tools. Gangsters in other parts of the world have developed ways to lessen SIM card vulnerability, and the terrorists are learning as fast as they can. In the meantime, it's getting them killed or captured.

With anonymous cards now more difficult to get, it's easier to track down bombs that use cell phones for detonation.


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