FAQs on mobile security

FAQs on Mobile Security

How many mobile phones are lost or stolen each year?
Each every year in Australia more than 200,000 mobile phones are reported lost or stolen. This equates to 4000 each week or one mobile phone handset every three minutes.

What are the most common situations in which mobile phones are stolen?
According to the latest study, mobile phones are most likely to be stolen from cars (28 per cent) or social venues such as restaurants, pubs and clubs (20 per cent). However, a substantial number of thefts are from the home (9 per cent) and the workplace (8 per cent). Most phones are reported as lost or stolen on Monday, suggesting that most phones go missing over the weekend.

What is the cost to the consumers of thefts and loss of mobile phones?
It is difficult to quantify but it would include:

  • Inconvenience of being without a phone 
  • Loss of stored information 
  • Liability for call charges until the theft is reported 
  • The hassle of having to report the theft · Replacement costs of the handset 
  • Damage caused by thieves breaking into cars and homes etc. 
  • Sometimes phone thefts are also associated with personal assaults.

In what ways have the industry addressed the problem of phone theft?
The industry initiative to implement inter-carrier blocking of lost or stolen phones across all networks has dramatically decreased the incentive to steal a phone as well as giving the consumer the option and security to block or unblock their handset in the event that their handset is either lost or stolen. Information on intercarrier (or IMEI blocking) is below.

The industry has provided various security features on mobile phones and on the networks. The PIN number and code locks the mobile phone making it more likely to be recovered. In addition, AMTA and the industry have widely distributed consumer tips which advises mobile users to: 

  • Never leave their mobile in the car 
  • Keep their mobile on them and never put it down in a public place or leave it unattended 
  • Switch to vibrate mode where a ring tone might attract the attention of a thief 
  • Put their name on it 
  • Note and store the serial numbers 
  • Notify their network carrier and the police immediately in the event of loss or theft

What can people do to increase the chance of recovering a mobile phone? 

  • Record your phone’s IMEI number and keep it in a safe place in case your phone is lost or stolen. It will be easier to identify and locate your phone if you can provide the IMEI number to police and your service provider. 
  • Use the security features on your phone. The PIN number and code locks the mobile phone making it more likely to be recovered. 
  • Record your handset serial number and keep it in a safe place. 
  • Engraving your initials and driver's licence number on both the phone and battery. 
  • If your phone is stolen notify the police and your service provider immediately.

Inter-Carrier IMEI blocking

What is an IMEI number?
The International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number is an international identity number used to uniquely identify a mobile phone. The 15-digit IMEI number is an electronic fingerprint transmitted every time a phone is used, which reveals the identity of the mobile handset. They are independent of phone numbers and are usually stamped beneath the battery on the back of the handset.

How does IMEI blocking compare to systems used overseas?
Australia is the first country to implement IMEI blocking across all digital GSM networks. Some countries have IMEI blocking on individual networks, but not inter-carrier IMEI number blocking. Although GSM is a global system, we have been able to develop inter-carrier IMEI number blocking because we have had access to the messaging platform (Electronic Information Exchange) which is an Australian telecommunications industry initiative developed through the Australian Communications Industry Forum.

How many handsets have been blocked since the carriers introduced blocking?
Around 250,000 phones have been blocked in Australia since the GSM carriers started IMEI number blocking on their networks.

Service

How can I find out my IMEI number?
IMEI numbers are independent of the phone number and are usually written underneath the battery or on the back of the handset. Mobile phone users can also check their 15 digit IMEI number by dialling *#06# on their mobile handset. Mobile phone owners should make a note of their IMEI number and keep the details in a safe place.

Where can I check the status of my handset to confirm whether it is blocked or unblocked?
You can check the status of your handset by going to the AMTA website for lost and stolen IMEI status queries. Type in the IMEI number of the handset and the status of your handset will be found to the most recent time noted on the page. Alternatively you can call Telstra's IMEI blocking inquiry line 1900 964 634. This service will provide you with information as to whether your handset has been reported as being either lost or stolen on the Telstra network. It is important to remember however that the inquiry line only applies to the Telstra network.

How long will it take to have a recovered or found phone unblocked?
Mobile carriers will use their best endeavours to remove the IMEI blocking as quickly as possible. In most cases this will be within 36 hours. 

Will consumers have to pay more for inter-carrier IMEI blocking?
No, this is a free service. 

If my phone is blocked will I still be under contract?
IMEI number blocking doesn’t change the terms of the contract you have with your GSM network carrier for your mobile phone service.

How long will the blocked status remain on a mobile carrier’s network before it is removed?
The blocked status of a handset/IMEI must be maintained on all mobile carriers’ networks for a minimum of two years unless the handset IMEI is unblocked by request during that period. 

Operational

Can a mobile carrier elect not to block an IMEI on their network?

Yes, if they:

  • Have reasonable grounds to suspect that blocking of the IMEI will have an adverse affect on a legitimate customer’s service 
  • Have checked and found duplicate IMEIs in their network (which is highly unlikely) 
  • Believe an error has been made

Is IMEI blocking applicable to the CDMA network?
No. CDMA network phones do not use SIM cards and have their own unique security systems and they cannot, like GSM phones can, be swapped to other networks. 

Does inter-carrier IMEI blocking include third generation networks like Hutchison’s ‘3’ network?
No, because third generation networks are not the same as GSM networks. Third generation networks have their own security features.

Privacy

Will the carriers or AMTA pass on information to law enforcement agencies when they block a handset?
Information will not be provided automatically; however, law enforcement agencies will be able to access information on who has attempted to connect a lost or stolen mobile phone on any network as part of their lawful investigation processes. Agencies can only receive information from the GSM network carriers and not AMTA’s central database.

How will carriers prevent unauthorised people mischievously reporting a phone stolen and having it disconnected?
Where a mobile carrier identifies a handset as lost or stolen, either by internal loss or customer report, only those IMEI’s blocked on their own network are to be sent by the mobile carrier to the AMTA’s IMEI central database. GSM network carriers must put in place adequate processes to ensure the integrity of the information that is provided to the central database. As a minimum this will involve: 

  • Process to validate identity of the customer 
  • Validation of IMEI based upon recent customer usage history 
  • Validation of IMEI based upon the mobile carrier’s own inventory records

Rebirthing

Can’t IMEI numbers on phones easily be changed which would make IMEI blocking useless?
It is not easy to modify IMEI numbers. It requires sophisticated equipment and technical skills in order to change IMEI numbers on modern mobile phones. The mobiles industry welcomes the government’s initiative to amend the criminal code to introduce a maximum two-year jail term for modifying IMEI numbers. It will be an offence to possess or control data or a device with the intention of it being used, by that person or another person, to illegally modify or change the IMEI of a mobile phone. It will also be an offence to produce, supply or obtain data or a device with the intention of it being used, by that person or another person, to illegally modify or change the IMEI of a mobile phone.

What is the penalty for changing IMEI numbers and ‘rebirthing’ mobile phones?
Pending legislation will amend the criminal code to introduce a maximum two-year jail term for modifying IMEI numbers. 

History

What is a brif history of the creation of inter-carrier blocking?
The Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) reached agreement on the implementation of systems to allow the blocking of lost and stolen mobiles. Then the GSM network carriers developed the technology and systems to block IMEI numbers on each of their own networks.

On 15 August 2002, Telstra became the first network to block lost and stolen phones that its customers reported missing. Vodafone followed in January 2003 and Optus began blocking at the end of March 2003.

Following this, AMTA used a messaging platform to share information between service providers to allow inter-carrier IMEI blocking which was developed by the Australian Communications Industry Forum (ACIF). The hosting, operations, support, and maintenance of the messaging platform are provided by Paradigm One Pty Ltd.

Inter-carrier blocking became available to mobile consumers in Australia on the 15 September 2003.

How does IMEI blocking actually work?
Digital networks can disable a mobile phone completely using its IMEI number. Mobile networks can track this number through calls made on their networks and if a person tries to re-register a phone that is reported as lost or stolen they will be identified. The system automatically blocks or unblocks a handset on any GSM network by sharing information in a central database called the AMTA IMEI Clearing House.

Optus, Telstra and Vodafone send a list of phones to be blocked or unblocked each day and also receive the details of phones to be blocked or unblocked from the other service providers. This means once a lost, stolen or found mobile phone has been reported to a service provider it can be blocked or unblocked within 24 hours. The whole process is facilitated through an Electronic Information Exchange messaging platform which was developed through the Australian Communications Industry Forum. The hosting, operations, support, and maintenance for the EIE messaging platform are provided Paradigm One Pty Ltd.