Celphone Cloning

17 Dec ’05

The Globe runs a remarkable story this morning on one customer’s journey through the nightmare of having her celphone number cloned – to the tune of a $12,000 bill that her carrier, Rogers, insists she pay. What happened next is quite remarkable:

Since making that call to Rogers last August, Ms. Drummond and her partner, Harry Gefen, have been researching the cellphone giant, yielding some unexpected discoveries, among them that the phones of senior Rogers executives, including Mr. Rogers himself, were repeatedly “cloned” by terrorist groups that used them to make thousands of overseas calls.

That bit of information came out at a conference Mr. Gefen attended in September, where he spoke with Cindy Hopper, a manager in Rogers security department, who told him that the phones of top Rogers executives had been the target of repeated cloning by a group linked to Hezbollah. (Cloning involves the duplication of a cellphone’s identity by capturing its number and encrypted security code.)

Speaking into Mr. Gefen’s tape recorder — and unaware that he was an aggrieved customer — Ms. Hopper said terrorist groups had identified senior cellphone company officers as perfect targets, since the company was loath to shut off their phones for reasons that included inconvenience to busy executives and, of course, the public-relations debacle that would take place if word got out.

Much, much more in the article. Ms. Drummond has been pursuing litigation against Rogers, which continues to accrue late charges against her on the ‘outstanding’ amount.

So it seems she’s trying to publicize her story. She should have a blog …

Update (2005-12-19): The Globe reports today that Rogers is now forgiving the amount ‘owed’:

Mr. Rogers told Ms. Drummond he would do everything in his power to end a dispute that has mushroomed into a public-relations debacle for his company. He apologized to Ms. Drummond and offered to cancel her extraordinary bill and cover any costs. But Ms. Drummond and her partner, Harry Gefen, told Mr. Rogers that they have an extra condition: that he come to their home for a cup of tea.

Although she’s glad that Rogers has offered to settle the dispute, Ms. Drummond says she will continue to pursue underlying issues, including a contentious clause in the Rogers contract that forbids consumers from taking the company to court or joining a class-action lawsuit against it.

“It’s completely ridiculous,” she said. “I’m glad that we got somewhere with this fight, but it shouldn’t take a law professor and a technology journalist to make them behave like decent corporate citizens.”

Update #2 – Bruce Schneier weighs in on the merits of not permitting the provider to charge customers for fraudulent transactions.

Update #3 – Tyler has some interesting quotes from Schneier in response to Rogers’ statements minimizing the significance of cloning:

“It’s certainly doable and being done,” said Schneier. “The phone companies want you to believe there’s no problem, so we don’t see the statistics. A lot of this just never gets to the criminal stage.”

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