Mobiles & Tablets

Stolen phones may no longer be traceable

Rajesh Kurup Mumbai | Updated on November 14, 2014


Hacking IMEI numbers of such phones is rampant in grey markets

At New Delhi’s Gaffar Market, the grey market for electronic goods, there are a number of shops that do brisk business hacking IMEI numbers on the sly. In the majority of cases, the device’s identity is stolen by replacing a simple chip, costing as little as ₹150-200.

International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) is generally a 15-digit serial number for devices with SIMs. The number, which can be found by dialling *#06# on a handset, contains information of origin, model and the serial number of the device. It can be used to block or trace a lost or stolen mobile phone. “We have come across a number of instances where IMEI numbers are duplicated or changed by inserting a new chip. This generally happens on low-cost devices, as high-end and branded phones generally get damaged when tampered with,” Sanjay Katkar, Chief Technology Officer at anti-virus solutions provider Quick Heal, told BusinessLine. Even though, there were sporadic incidents reported earlier, the hacking is much more rampant now.

In certain cases, the hacking would result in duplication of IMEI numbers, which are generated by handset manufacturers under the guidance of the telecom regulator. “When brought to the notice of manufacturers, both the numbers are blocked and an enquiry is conducted to flush out the duplicate,” Katkar said.

Apart from the Gaffar market, IMEI hackings are rampant across other places in New Delhi; Heera Panna, Manish Market and other locales in Mumbai, as well as Pune, Patna and Kochi, among others.

Why they are hacked

The IMEI is hacked to make the device untraceable and these handsets are sold as second-hand phones (used phones), Mashood Mahamood, a Mumbai-based dealer of new handsets said. “With the prices of mobile handsets on the wane, the demand for used phones is also declining. The risk is great as now a mobile handset is used for Internet, emails and banking, among others,” Mahamood added.

Tracking a false IMEI number is impossible as there are no records of it. In 2010, India banned imports of mobile phones without IMEI numbers, citing a security threat as these phones could be used by terrorists or anti-social elements.

“Hacking of IMEI numbers has been observed as an increasing trend in the industry, which is certainly going to affect all the brands in the long run. Although, at Panasonic, we haven’t faced any such issue yet, home-grown brands dealing with exceptionally high volumes will get adversely impacted,” said Manish Sharma, Managing Director, Panasonic India and South Asia.

“A mobile phone user is linked to a SIM card, and a SIM is good enough to track down a subscriber. The issue is that now a lost or stolen phone is lost forever,” said Rajan S Mathews, Director-General of the GSM operators’ body Cellular Operators’ Association of India.

Published on November 14, 2014

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