Phone numbers are now often considered the “trust anchor” for end-user accounts.
In some cases, a user’s valid phone number is their user name. But what happens when the very phone numbers that are used to verify and keep end-users secure are given up, recycled and assigned to a new person? Phone number recycling is the industry term that refers to the event when that deactivated/disconnected number gets reassigned to someone else.
Data of recycled phone numbers are not available but is thought that if users are not diligent in updating their account information and telcos are not aware of numbers being recycled, it can lead to increased risks for the integrity of the account.
In the most basic scenario, the new owner of a phone number is now tied to the account that the former owner linked to that same number—providing access to someone else’s account.
Alternatively, this can also lead to the true user being locked out and account notifications, security codes, password resets and other messages and alerts are not reaching the end-user International Center for Investigative Reporting, (ICIR), recently wrote about confusions that have arisen as a result of SIM recycling.Imagine the frustration of a phone subscriber who is told by another that the line he or she is using is not his or hers?
Only recently, Anthony Okolia was illegally detained for possessing a phone line he purchased years after it was allegedly abandoned by Hanan Buhari, daughter of Nigeria’s President. It was discovered that the accused had earlier registered the SIM.
Fortunately, he was still in possession of the payment receipt.The incident generated some controversy. While some questioned legality of SIM swap, others expressed worry over unlawful detainment of the accused persons.
There are several other Nigerians who have had similar SIM swap experience but not made their complaints public. Last year December, Adeleke Adewolu, executive commissioner on Stakeholder Management (ECSM), Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) attributed illegal SIM swaps as being responsible for the highest cyber threats recorded in the telecom sector.
David Ogala, a security consultant has however urged the Nigerian Communications Commission to take steps to restore trust in mobile phone.He said that subscribers’ personal experience with services providers is the most significant factor in determining the level of trust.