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26th June - 7th July 2017

Department of Security and Crime Science

Securing The Mobile Generation

Home Office
24 May 2007

Professor Nick Tilley, Nottingham Trent University opened the workshop which was supported by the EPSRC International Crime Science Network. Barry Webb from the Home Office then highlighted the Government perspective, summarising progress to date in designing out theft of mobile phones and outlining further action needed. Three academic presentations then followed, examining different crime problems associated with mobile phones. Professor Graham Farrell from Loughborough University focused on the theft of mobiles phones, Professor Gloria Laycock from UCL on how phones facilitate the commission of crime, and John Barwood from Forensic Telecommunications Services demonstrated the value of mobiles as sources of forensic evidence in the investigation of crime.

Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker closed the workshop. He stressed the importance of tackling this problem and the need to work together in partnership to solve it. This workshop shows the potential to do that. He thanked delegates, some of whom had traveled long distances to be here, for coming and participating so freely. Special thanks went to UCL Centre for Security and Crime Science for organising the workshop, and to the EPSRC for supporting it.

Prof Nick Tilley (Nottingham Trent University)

Barry Webb (HO), Colin Phillips (HO), Stephen Rhodes (DTI), Kenny McDonald (Metropolitan Police), Alex Nagle (Child Exploitation and Online Protection), Bill Harrower (SOCA), Tim Wright (Motorola), Mika Lauhde (Nokia), Matt Dixon (LG Electronics), Ken Bonefield-Nillsen (Sony Ericcson), Nick Martin (T Mobile), Jonathan Clark (FTS), John Barwood (FTS), Dr Hervé Borrion (UCL), Prof Nick Tilley (Nottingham Trent University), Prof. Graham Farrell (Loughborough University), Prof Gloria Laycock (UCL), Dr Phil Nobles (Cranfield University), Dr Yang Yang (UCL), Prof Joe McGeehan (Univerity of Bristol), Dr Tony Kenyon (UCL).


The phone as a target – Prof Graham Farrell (Loughborough University)

The phone as a facilitator– Prof Gloria Laycock (UCL)

The phone as a source of evidence – John Barwood (Forensic Telecommunication Services)


Barry Webb: The phone as a target

The rapid change in technology will continue to make phones attractive to the thief – vastly improved memory and power processors, huge developments in screen technology, new services such as gaming and e-commerce. Consequently crimes with phones as a target are very likely to stay high.

Blocking of phones:

Some felt that the way forward remained with the networks to provide more secure services. Customers might pay for this. But blocking needs to be expanded globally. Most operators worldwide are not connected to the CEIR. Examples included India and Austria. The GSMA are working to improve this situation.


The problem of lack of subscriber details in pre-pay services was highlighted. Pre-pay originally introduced for customers who could not pass the credit rating tests for contract services. Pre-pay could still be provided, but registration details should now be taken.

A costly exercise for the retailers, and could disenfranchise some such as the supermarkets. Might also run into difficulties with EU Legislation, although it was suggested Germany requires registration details to be collected. But given the importance of the mobile now, equivalent to the motor car, it may be necessary to introduce registration at point of sale.

New systems that allow communication over the internet, however, may quickly de-value the use of registration details as this will annonymise caller details.

Handset security measures:

In relation to designing in security measures, a number of points were made:

  • Good systems such as remote deactivation exist, but are very expensive
  • Fears that systems such as remote deactivation might be of benefit to serious criminals and terrorists
  • Costly to administer such systems – the need to verify the authenticity of requests for example
  • The need for global agreement – The UK and even Europe are small players in the global market, and need to ensure requirements are not anti-competitive, so that those companies manufacturing and selling in the far east, for example, come under same regulations and standards as those that the EU might impose.

Gloria Laycock: The phone as a facilitator

There are no silver bullet solutions. The Government needs to get its act together and tighten up the registration with regards PAYG phones. Possibly introduce a tax on SIM cards?

We need a sub-group to talk through these issues. There doesn’t seem to be anyone yet in these companies thinking about security but there is a willingness to do that. We need to embed the notion that departments need to think of crime consequences. There is also a global theft problem.

Nick Tilley: The phone as a source of evidence

The difficulty is in applying effective leverage to key stakeholders. This is partly because of the global nature of the business. Is it possible therefore to effectively apply pressure at a European level?

With regards registration PAYG ther is pessimism about moving away from this as it is such a large market and it is costly to have registration obligatory.

Also need to realise that murder and serious crime is different to volume crime. Mobiles not only enable crime, but also enable the more effective detection of crime.

In terms of forms of analysis. There is the possibility to track serious criminals moving networks by looking at the signature of phonecall patterns.

There is mileage in further kinds of discussion.

Feedback from delegates

  • GSM Association has been discussing handset theft for some years and would be worth talking to.
  • Agree that the requirement is to go European-wide. Global operators will listen more to Europe.
  • We need a more formal way of documenting these discussions as we are coming across so many issues. This is also an issue of corporate social responsibility.
  • Registering PAYG phones will not solve the problem. Prepay will by superceeded by Skype so you need to regulate the Internet in some way. Also, phones are leaking across all countries; sometimes supported by governments so it is not easy to build a proprietary solution. With international roaming you can also use another country’s SIM card so legislation at a local level only would just penalise the networks.
  • Prepay is a business model that works. The distinction is between prepay and unregistered prepay. You could look at access to the network rather than what (is the SIM) is accessing it?

Follow-up actions

We should follow this up with a smaller strategic group. The aim would be to work out what more to do and how to achieve it. There are various bodies and groups around that represent different aspects of the industry, but none take a broader strategic look across the whole piece. The mix of independent academics, manufacturers, networks and government seemed to work very well and it would be good to try and continue this into the future and identify some concrete actions for implementation. 

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