HomeMiddle East & AfricaMobile operators help terrorists, goodfellas and bad actors evade detection

    Mobile operators help terrorists, goodfellas and bad actors evade detection


    VoLTE charged with criminal conspiracy

    Mobile network operators are helping criminals and terrorists evade detection as they cross borders, according to security specialist Illuminate, which conducts data surveillance governments and the military. Digital identity smuggling routes are unwittingly created by a shift in the usage of networks, with home routing being increasingly adopted for roaming calls. An unintended consequence of this loophole is that desperadoes can bypass lawful intercepts used in pursuit of suspect characters. This is creating a huge intelligence gap and when criminals move from one area to another, particularly when they cross borders, their mobile phones often still route back to their home networks, making it very hard to track where they are.

    According to Illuminate, this is not a news phenomenon but it has recently been exacerbated by the global adoption of Voice over LTE (VoLTE). The problem is being discussed by law enforcement agencies behind the scenes around the world as it’s become a priority issue for officials to solve, according to Illuminate. Technology is becoming available to expose incidents where roaming calls are going through but few nations have adopted it and there are huge gaps in the electronic fence through which threat actors can communicate without being monitored.

    The ambiguity is caused by the fact that all current VoLTE Roaming deployments is based on S8 Home Routing rather than Local Breakout, according to Building on 10 Years of VoLTE, a report GSMA Intelligence. It contains the results of a survey which found that 37% of operators still don’t have any VoLTE Roaming agreements with other operators and that 43% of operators have fewer than 10 VoLTE Roaming agreements.

    Technology like eSIMs and posted overseas SIMs will cause more problems for crime agencies looking to make a lawful Intercept, Iluminate managing director Dr Iain Goodfellow told Mobile Europe.

    Operators are unable to fulfill the requirement to provide Lawful Intercept of voice calls to LEAs, which have a blind-spot in their interception capability as a result. Known criminals that are being targeted by LEAs can communicate with impunity. Exposure caused by VoLTE voice being carried over data links and data transport nodes in network not being voice aware.

    Foreign ‘persons of interest’ roaming in another country could not have voice communications intercepted by the visited country.  Also, criminals who are aware of this blind-spot could take advantage by communicating using foreign-registered SIM cards.

    This problem is solved by deployment of technology solutions created to address this issue, such as Illuminate’s Vigilance Roaming Collect probes. These, claimed Goodfellow, give complete visibility of VoLTE Roaming calls for Lawful Intercept.

    Illuminate designed its range of systems to try and match all the different telecom designs around the world. The main design brief is to allow law enforcement agencies to rapidly adapt to the new data streams they have to monitor. “The architecture of our solutions allows for quick introduction of this technology to rapidly fill the gap as 2G and 3G gets turned off,” said Goodfellow.

    Lawful Intercept is used by US homeland security and focuses on the prevention of criminal acts and terrorism. Criminals and terrorists are constantly evolving but telcos are too complex to move fast and fine tuning them is expensive. “One of our solutions is independent of any equipment currently deployed which makes it a low-cost introduction,” said Goodfellow, “we delivered several alternatives to meet the lawful intercept demands without impacting existing services.” The only disruption is to the crime and terrorism sectors.