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.

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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.

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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.

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

Most popular posts of 2013

As we approach the end of 2013, I’m going to do my usual series of blog posts looking back at what actually happened on this little planet. This is the first, being a list of the most-read posts on this website.

There hasn’t been a lot to choose from in the last couple of years, because most of my writing is done elsewhere these days. That means some rather mundane pieces of writing, such as Weekly Wrap posts, end up on the list. That’s possibly an argument for abandoning this little exercise.

  1. Catchup posts within 36 hours was the most popular post of all, which makes no sense whatsoever because it’s routine administrivia. I suspect the visitor count has been artificially inflated somehow, though supposedly the traffic generated by spambots has already been removed.
  2. My tweets from TechEd Australia 2012’s keynote sessions, a post that was linked to from news stories that reported me having been banned from attending Microsoft’s TechEd conference. My own blog post on this issue is coming up at number 5.
  3. Guardian Australia not the droid you’re looking for, being my reaction against all the excitement generated in January 2013 by the announcement that there would soon be an Australian edition of this news masthead.
  4. My fish are dead: the black dog ate them (an explanation?), being my rather idiosyncratic announcement and discussion of the fact that I’d been dealing with a severe depression episode, published in July.
  5. Microsoft has banned me from covering TechEd, which is self-explanatory.
  6. Choosing my next media directions: you’re doing it, OK?, from May.
  7. Vodafone Australia’s new 4G network ain’t bad, being the write-up of my trial of the network which led to that conclusion.
  8. Weekly Wrap 152: LulzSec, Optus, radio and thinking stuff, which I suspect is only in the Top 10 because it mentions LulzSec.
  9. Weekly Wrap 155: Chemtrails, elitism and much thinking, ditto, chemtrails.
  10. Sydney Harbour “giant gambling den” bullshit reportage, from January.

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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.

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