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.


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

Talking Telstra wholesale pricing on 1395 FIVEaa

FIVEaa logoTelstra is Australia’s biggest telco, and owner of the vast majority of the copper customer access network (CAN), the so called “last mile” — and it wants to raise its wholesale prices, charging other telcos 7.2% more.

“The move would affect almost every Australian with a phone line or an internet connection, because Telstra owns most of the copper phone lines that other telcos depend on to service their customers,” reported ABC News.

“The company leases about 4 million line services to rivals and has not raised wholesale prices since 2011.”

On Wednesday I spoke about the distinction between retail and wholesale telecommunications providers, and whether a 7.2% rise is reasonable, with Will Goodings on 1395 FIVEaa — after independent Senator Nick Xenophon has given his views.

Xenophon thought the rise was unreasonable, because Telstra had “gotten $11 billion” from NBN Co. I disagreed on both counts.

For reference, here’s the current Telstra Wholesale rate card (PDF).


The audio is ©2014 dmgRadio Australia.

Weekly Wrap 185: A post-productivity period, primarily

Poster for click to embiggenHere’s the key stuff that happened in my week of Monday 16 to Sunday 22 December 2013. Like last week, it wasn’t nearly as productive as I wanted it to be.


Media Appearances


Corporate Largesse

None. I’m guessing that all the corporate types had stopped worrying about the clients and started worrying about their own end-of-year parties.

The Week Ahead

Well Monday has already happened, and it wasn’t very productive. Tuesday is just beginning, and it’s full of errands in and around the Sydney CBD. It’s also Christmas Eve, so once those errands are done I’ll be turning down the productivity dial even further for the rest of the week.

I may write a couple things over the remainder of the week, or I may not. It’ll all depend upon how I feel at the time.

[Photo: Poster for, photographed at Yok Yor Thai Food Factory, 19 December 2013.]

Why are corporations so paranoid, Telstra?

Telstra screenshot: click to embiggenWith all their constant worrying about whether people would recommend them or not, like this example from Telstra, I’m starting to think that most big corporations are paranoid psychotics — and not in a good way.

The other day I conducted a perfectly routine transaction at a Telstra Shop. I cancelled a mobile broadband service and replaced it with a different one. As with many businesses, my visit was followed up with a brief survey, “Please tell us how you feel.”

There were four questions, but none of them actually asked me how I felt:

Is your new Telstra service working? If you answer ‘no’ to this question, we will present you with options to get in contact with Telstra to resolve your issue on the next page.

OK, that’s fair enough. You need to know that the customer has a working broadband service. But the other three?

When you consider all aspects of buying and connecting your service — how likely are you to recommend Telstra to a friend or colleague?

Thinking about your in-store experience, how likely would you be to recommend the store to a friend or colleague?

What are the most important reasons why you gave us this score?

Guys, this goes way beyond “Does my bum look fat in this?” This is self-obsession. “What are you going to tell people about us? Why, what did I do?”

These constant questions about likelihood of being recommended are a sign of paranoia. I don’t care how you feel, I gave you money. Recommending you or not just isn’t a KPI for me.

How about you ask questions that reflect the customer’s needs and aspirations? Or even just concrete questions about how long I had to wait, whether staff were polite, or whether the service meets my needs?

Weekly Wrap 165: Distractions and decisions, of a sort

HMAS Advance (P83): click to embiggenIf there was a unifying theme for my week Monday 29 July to Sunday 4 August 2013, it was Distraction.

I distracted myself with the Nokia Lumia 925 / Windows Phone 8 trial. While I’m getting some useful real-world experience of the two products, it’s probably not going to generate any revenue, and it soaked up a lot of my time. I distracted myself even further by fiddling around with video editing.

I was distracted by delayed trains on Thursday night, sadly due to a death on the railway line at Mt Druitt, which meant I didn’t get back to Wentworth Falls until 0100 the following day.

I was distracted by Telstra’s changes to mobile broadband allowances — apparently they’ve now dropped the maximum data allowance they’ll provision to a mobile phone to a mere 9GB a month, so I was living the scenario I wrote about recently — and I had to trek to Penrith on Saturday to buy another device or risk being sodomised by their 10c/megabyte over-run charges.

And finally, today I was distracted by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd finally deciding to call the election for 7 September — which means I’m distracting myself even more.


  • So you call yourself a geek?, ZDNet Australia, 29 July 2013. There was quite a bit of reaction to this column, possibly for the wrong reasons.


Media Appearances

  • On Thursday, Channel TEN’s The Project recorded some of my comments about geoblocking, but they have not been aired yet.

Corporate Largesse


The Week Ahead

[Update Monday 5 August 2013, 2155 AEST: This section has been changed to reflect the unfolding reality.]

On Monday I’ll write a ZDNet Australia column, making up for the one I’d intended to write on Friday, and then rum some errands to Katoomba.

On Tuesday I’ll write for Technology Spectator, work on revenue-generation for The 9pm Election, and complete episode 3 of the Corrupted Nerds: Conversations podcast, amongst other things.

On Wednesday I’ll head to Sydney for some of the Check Point Experience, an event hosted by security vendor Check Point. Thursday will be another Sydney trip for a medical appointment and a few other bits and pieces. And Friday will be a day of podcast production,I hope.

The weekend is currently unplanned.

[Photo: Attack-class patrol boat HMAS Advance (P83) (click to embiggen photo), formerly of the Royal Australian Navy, now with the Australian National Maritime Museum, photographed on Sydney Harbour on 1 August 2013.]