Talking SIM cards, spooks and hacks on 1395 FIVEaa

FIVEaa logoThird time’s the charm, right? My third radio spot on The Great SIM Heist was for 1395 FIVEaa in Adelaide on Wednesday afternoon.

Again, I won’t repeat the background, because it’s all in my first post on the subject. But I will say that this is the most detailed conversation about it so far, because presenter Will Goodings and I spoke for 13 minutes.

That said, there’s not much more information than we had yesterday. Gemalto isn’t due to hold its press conference until late this evening Australian time, so we’ll know more tomorrow.

Play

The audio is ©2015 Nova Entertainment.

Talking SIM cards, spooks and hacks on 2UE

2UE logoThe second radio spot I did on The Great SIM Heist — or perhaps I should say the claimed heist, or even the alleged heist — was for the Sydney talk radio station 2UE on Tuesday afternoon.

I won’t repeat all the background. See my previous post for that. But I will say that it’s always interesting to hear the different questions asked and concerns raised by different presenters. And of course my responses differ in content and style to match the style of the program and the radio station.

Here’s the full seven-minute chat with drive presenter Justin Smith. At the end, we seem to have invented a new regular segment. And at least this time I pronounced Gemalto correctly.

Play

This audio is ©2015 Radio 2UE Sydney Pty Ltd.

Talking SIM cards, spooks and hacks on The World Today

ABC logoOn Friday, The Intercept published some astounding claims under the headline The Great SIM Heist: How spies stole the keys to the encryption castle. The story claims that Five Eyes spooks had achieved a major breakthrough in their ability to monitor mobile communications.

American and British spies hacked into the internal computer network of the largest manufacturer of SIM cards in the world, stealing encryption keys used to protect the privacy of cellphone communications across the globe, according to top-secret documents provided to The Intercept by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden…

With these stolen encryption keys, intelligence agencies can monitor mobile communications without seeking or receiving approval from telecom companies and foreign governments. Possessing the keys also sidesteps the need to get a warrant or a wiretap, while leaving no trace on the wireless provider’s network that the communications were intercepted. Bulk key theft additionally enables the intelligence agencies to unlock any previously encrypted communications they had already intercepted, but did not yet have the ability to decrypt.

The company in question is Gemalto. With headquarters in Amsterdam, and 28 “personalisation facilities” around the world that burn the encryption keys into SIM cards, it has nearly 30% of the market — making it an obvious target for spooks.

The story started to filter through to the mainstream media on Monday in the US, or Tuesday Australian time, and I’ve already done two radio spots on the topic — and doubtless there’ll be more to come.

The first spot was an interview for ABC Radio, and parts of it ended up in this report on The World Today.

[The three Australian mobile network operators] Telstra, Vodafone and Optus have all confirmed that Gemalto has supplied their SIM cards. Sarah Sedghi reports.

This is the full five-minute report.

Play

The audio is ©2015 Australian Broadcasting Corporation. It’s served here directly from the ABC website, where you can also read a transcript.

Vodafone Australia’s new 4G network ain’t bad

Vodafone logoFor the last few week’s I’ve been using Vodafone Australia’s new 4G network, and I must say it ain’t bad at all. Here’s quite a long post about what I’ve experienced.

Since Saturday 8 June 2013 — that is, since about a week before the network was launched to the public — I’ve used Vodafone’s network as my primary data link to the internet, via a Samsung Galaxy S IV 4G handset that Vodafone loaned me, along with a SIM that gave me uncapped data. Generally I used that smartphone as a Wi-Fi hotspot for my everyday internet use.

Normally I use Telstra’s Next G 4G network — or their 3G network outside 4G coverage areas. The hardware is either a Sierra Wireless pocket Wi-Fi hotspot, or sometimes my Samsung Galaxy S III 4G handset configured as a Wi-Fi hotspot. So what you’re about to read is, I think, a reasonable comparison.

That said, I’d call this a “trial”, not a “test”. I was not rigorous at all about this, and the results only reflect what I experienced on the days in question. Your mileage may vary.

Key Observations

  1. I often work on the train between Sydney and the Blue Mountains. So, on Saturday 8 June, I did a side-by-side comparison. With all other data usage removed from the handsets, I did speed tests as speedtest.net as they sat on my lap. On the train. The detailed results are over the fold. As you’ll see, Vodafone’s network was often faster than Telstra’s, especially where Telstra was likely to suffer congestion. This is unsurprising: there weren’t any customers on Vodafone’s network yet.
  2. Over the three weeks of the trial, my general impression was that where both Vodafone and Telstra had 4G coverage, they offered similar speeds. In highly congested locations, such as the Sydney CBD, North Sydney or Newtown, Vodafone often pulled ahead. But Vodafone obviously has far less geographic coverage for now. See below for the maps.
  3. Up at my Blue Mountains base near Wentworth Falls, neither Vodafone nor Telstra had 4G coverage, only 3G. While I didn’t do speed tests there, as a user I found no noticeable difference between the two networks. That is, there were no occasions when I felt the urge to whinge that Vodafone’s network was causing me more problems that Telstra’s usually did. Both seemed to have the same difficulty punching a signal through a eucalypt forest that’s waving in the wind. That’s not Science, obviously, but it says… something. Probably that there’s not much to choose between the two networks in that location, given the sort of things I do.
  4. On my regular train runs up and down the mountains, there was no real experiential difference between Vodafone’s network and Telstra’s — except, of course, where Vodafone has no 4G. Apart from one factor, that is. My impression was that the Telstra handset was better at noticing when 4G became available and switching to that, whereas the one on Vodafone would stay on 3G all the way into Central even though there’s plenty of 4G areas — but I didn’t test this properly.
  5. Using mobile broadband is a very different experience when you’re not worried about how many gigabytes of data you’re sucking down. As I wrote the other week, the promise of mobile broadband is years away.

Overall, it would appear that Vodafone is rolling out a 4G network that will match Telstra’s in terms of performance, at least once the coverage is in place. Assuming there’s coverage where you need it, the choice will come down to the pricing and support, as always. Whether this will be enough for Vodafone to win back the customers they’ve lost is another question.

Continue reading “Vodafone Australia’s new 4G network ain’t bad”

Weekly Wrap 153: Dumb tribalism and a long flight

San Francisco sunrise: click to embiggenMy week Monday 6 to Sunday 12 May 2013 is technically still continuing, because as I write this it’s the start of a beautiful Sunday morning in San Francisco — and I’ve got the day to myself.

But it’s already well after midnight Sunday night in Australia, so here we are.

Articles

  • You’ll love the ‘How Fast is the NBN?’ site … until you read this, Crikey, 9 May 2013. The reaction to this article, in the comments and on Twitter, astounded me. By simply pointing out some subtleties in a propaganda website and trying to present Malcolm Turnbull’s arguments fairly — which is all basic parts of a journalist’s job — I was branded a Liberal Party shill, and worse. For anyone familiar with what I personally think and believe, and for Turnbull himself, this must have come as quite a surprise. I hope to write about this soon, because I found the whole experience hilariously funny.
  • Mobile broadband’s false promise, ZDNet Australia, 10 May 2013.

Media Appearances

It’s such a variable thing, this being a media whore. Four spots last week, none at all this week.

Corporate Largesse

The Week Ahead

On Monday we head to San Jose for SuiteWorld, which runs through to Thursday. I’ll then return to San Francisco for some time to myself before flying back to Sydney on Sunday night. Obviously I’ll have to do some writing in there, but I’ll work that out as I go along.

[Photo: San Francisco sunrise, photographed a short time ago through a slightly dusty 17th floor window at the luxurious St Regis Hotel.]

Weekly Wrap 90: Propaganda, technology and bird life

My usual weekly summary of what I’ve been doing elsewhere on the internets. This post covers the week from Monday 20 to Sunday 26 February 2012. Busy busy busy.

Podcasts

  • Patch Monday episode 126, “Mobile broadband: the next 5 years”. Marc Einstein, who leads Frost & Sullivan’s mobile and wireless analyst team for Asia Pacific, foretells the future.

Articles

Media Appearances

None. That’s odd.

Corporate Largesse

  • On Thursday I attended NICTA’s Techfest technology showcase, and they served food and drink.
  • On Friday I had an Important Television Production Meeting at which food and drink were to be had. But I’m not sure that counts because that’s how they always go.
  • This morning (Sunday) I’m heading off to Kickstart Forum on the Gold Coast, the annual link-up of IT journalists with vendors who pay money. My flights, accommodation, food and drink are covered by the organisers, Media Connect, but really if you trace it back it’s a whole bunch of technology vendors. I’ll post a list of all the freebies we’re given next week.

Elsewhere

Most of my day-to-day observations are on my high-volume Twitter stream, and random photos and other observations turn up on my Posterous stream (or they used to before my phone camera got a bit too scratched up). The photos also appear on Flickr, where I eventually add geolocation data and tags.

[Photo: Rosella Blur. A rosella is caught in a moment of impressionistic action. Yes, this was taken at the Bunjaree Cottages.]