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What is Mobile Phone Cloning?

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  • Difficulty Level : Basic
  • Last Updated : 09 Sep, 2021

Mobile phone cloning is a way of making a copy of the entire mobile phone data in another mobile by an illegal methodology. The purpose of such an activity is to make unauthorized use of the mobile phone. The data in the other phone would contain all the data of the previous phone that can be used for fraudulent activities or for making anonymous calls from the clone, causing the bill to be addressed to the correct mobile owner. 

Access to the Electronic Serial Number (ESN) and Mobile Identification Number (MIN) pairs is required for cloning. This can be done by methods such as sniffing the cellular network, trashing the cellular companies or re-sellers, or by hacking the cellular providers. 

Experimentation of cloning in GSM phones has been successful. However, due to the difficulty involved in such techniques, it is beyond the reach of most people and is only limited to serious researchers and hackers, and people who handle covert missions. The older phones were more prone to cloning. Cloning as a means of escaping the law is very difficult as the radio fingerprint (present in all mobile phone’s transmission signal remains the same even if the Electronic Serial Number, ESN or Mobile Identification Number, MIN are changed). This mismatch can be used to identify fraudulent activities. 

History

On the 13th of April, 1998, it was announced by ISAAC security research and the Smartcard Developer Association, that due to an error in the codes used for authentication, the GSM cell phones were at a risk. The risk was that the duplication of the phone was possible if the attacker had physical access to the mobile device. The cloning first started in the late1900s when a £100 app, Tandy Scanner could be used for eavesdropping on the conversations of the analog mobile phones. This is how the conversations of the popular personalities found their way to the newspapers. In India, the first incident was reported around 2005 when a person was arrested for illegally cloning CDMA-based mobile phones. 

Types of Mobile Phones

Let’s discuss the different types of mobile phones.

1. CDMA: This type of mobile phone is called the Code Division Multiple Access mobile phone. Using this, the signal can be transferred over a shared portion of the spectrum. This type of mobile phone does not use SIM cards. The operators providing CDMA services are Reliance and Tata Indicom.

2. GSM: Global System for Mobile Communications mobile phones contain the Subscriber Identity Model or SIM cards which contain the information about the user. The SIM card can be plugged into the GSM phone to program it. This also makes way for the GSM phones to be easily borrowed or rented. Operators providing GSM technology services include Airtel, Reliance JIO, VI, etc. 

How Cloning is Done?

The methods of cloning vary according to various mobile types. The various types of cloning are explained below-

1. Cloning in CDMA Phones: The CDMA technology uses techniques such as spread-spectrum for sharing bands with multiple communications. The user information, in the case of CDMA mobiles transmitted digitally (although after encryption). This makes the CDMA phones more susceptible to attacks. The attackers analyze the radio frequency spectrum and steal the data (cell phone pair) when the information is being registered with the cell site. User data such as ESN and MIN are at risk in such situations. This data is then used to clone phones. The pair can be retrieved using Digital Data Interface or DDI device. The stolen data is fed into a new CDMA mobile whose existing data is removed. The mobile can even be programmed to have the same number as that of the original mobile phone.

2. Cloning in GSM Phones: Every GSM phone comes with an IMEI number, which is a 15-digit authenticator. The IMEI number does not require to be kept private. More important than the IMEI number is the IMSI information present on the SIM card. This is because it holds the subscriber information and the roaming information. GSM is comparatively more secure than CDMA. GSM uses strong Cryptographic standards for transmitting its subscriber information. It uses the COMP128 authentication algorithm for SIM which secures the GSM mobile provided the physical SIM is prevented from loss and theft and taken care of. 

3. AMPS Cloning: There are other types of mobiles that are very prone to attacks. These are the Analogue mobile telephones. The data in such phones can easily eavesdrop. This can be done using special equipment to intercept calls as plain narrowband FM. The data stolen could be anything from Cellular Telephone Number or CTN and Mobile Directory Numbers or MDN to Electronic Serial Numbers (ESN). This data could be cloned to another mobile for making calls. Due to the increasing number of cases of such fraudulent activity, some operators even started mandating the use of pins before making calls.

Mobile Phone Cloning Software

The cloning software is a set of instructions used to copy data from one mobile to another. For this, the EPROM or EEPROM of the mobile phones needs to be modified. This is done using a new chip that can configure the ESN using the software. After this, changing of the MIN takes place. This results in the cloning of the phone. The ESN and MIN can be discovered by sniffing the phone, trashing, or hacking the cellphone providers. Various software is used for cloning. Some are described below-

1. Patagonia: CDMA mobiles can be cloned using this software. This is a freely available software and it can be used to clone a SIM card multiple times. The calls and messages originating from the cloned mobile can be traced. If however the IMEI number of the mobile is changed, it cannot be tracked. 

2. Tady Scanner: Another app used for cloning is Tandy Scanner which can be used for AMPS cloning in analog phones.

Methods of Detection of Cloned Phones

1. Duplicate Detection Mechanism: This is a method by which the operators check if the same phone is active in two places at the same instant. If such a situation occurs. The service providers usually block all services which makes the attacker switch to a different mobile and the actual owner contacts the service provider to resume services.

2. Mechanism of Velocity Trap: This method is used to check if the mobile is moving at an unbelievable pace. For example, if a person made a call from a place and 5 minutes later a call is made from a place that is very far off which cannot be reached in 5 minutes. This means that 2 phones with the same identity are being used.

3. Detection By using Radio Frequency (RF): This technique is also called Fingerprinting. This is predominantly used in the military. Every radio frequency has a unique fingerprint. This can be compared for all the phones from where it is originating. This way, the clones can be identified as the have the same identity but different fingerprints.

4. Usage Profiling: In this method, the subscriber profile is monitored for discrepancies. The method is similar to the one used by credit card companies. One such example could be a person, who makes local calls but is suddenly identified to be making hour-long international calls.

5. Counting the number of calls made every month (or before the payment is made): The phone along with the network is used to analyze the calls. The calls made are matched by both the records. There can be a discrepancy or mismatch of only 1 call at the maximum. If there are more irregularities, the service is terminated. 

6. PIN codes can also be used to detect if the phone is cloned or not: The callers use PINs to unlock the phones. The same PIN is used to lock the calls once the calls are placed. The mobile phone service providers share the PIN security information to make sure that the mobile is safe during roaming.

How to Prevent Mobile Phone Cloning?

1. Traffic Analysis: This technique is used to know the patterns of making calls using Artificial Intelligence. This can also be used to make a decision if the activity is fraudulent or very different from the actual user’s behavior such as all of a sudden long length international calls.  

2. Blacklisting: Blacklisting stolen phones is a way to prevent such unauthorized activities. The equipment Identity register is used by mobile service providers to Blacklist mobile across the world.

3. PIN: The verification of a subscriber using the Personal Identification Number is a way to prevent cloning activities. In surveys conducted by the USA, the usage of PINs was found to have reduced cell phone fraud by up to 80%.

Impact of Cloning 

  • The criminals and terror mongers use this technique for getting illicit tasks done. They also use such cloned mobiles for calling and the original phone users have to pay extra bills.
  • Cloning accounts for huge losses for mobile service providers. The attackers clone the phones of innocent people and if cloning is found, the charges of calls cannot be billed to the mobile phone owners.
  • The anti-national activities are carried out using cloning. Such activities could range anywhere from drug dealing to illicit trafficking.
  • Cloning is in its initial stages in India. Therefore, prevention can be used to deal with it. Businesses and staff must be very careful about the security and take cloning seriously.

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