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end of sim cards title

The SIM card, it revolutionised the mobile phone industry and spurred us into the world of portable communication and later smartphones. However, 25 years after its first integration, the humble SIM card is possibly facing the end of a short but eventful life.

Vulnerabilities to attacks, dated technology and modern alternatives have meant SIM cards could be living on borrowed time… but does anyone really care?

sim card pile

So what is a SIM card?

Well a SIM, or Subscriber Identity Module, is a small card equipped with circuit board that is placed in your phone (or tablet) in order to identify it to your provider. SIMs hold the personal information of the account holder, including their phone number, address book, text messages, pictures and other personal data.

 

Why SIM cards?

SIM cards, originally much larger in size, hit the market in 1991 as a way to quickly and safely transfer data from shared phones. At the time, as many of you will have experienced, mobile phones were rather bulky, strapped round a salesman’s shoulder or often found wedged into shared cars.

A SIM card could be easily slotted into the phone and would allow users to quickly and easily transfer their phone number and contacts from one phone, or car, to the next. The SIM card negated the need to type in long ID codes each time a new user wanted to access the phone.

From this, the size and sophistication of the SIM advanced with modern mobiles, but the concept is effectively the same.

Why are SIMs at risk?

As SIM cards can be physically accessed and tampered with, they are theoretically a security risk. Earlier in the year Gemalto, a Dutch SIM manufacturer was embroiled in a hacking scandal with both British and American special agencies. It was alleged the NSA and GCHQ launched attacks on its computer systems to gain billions of mobile device encryption keys.

If this is the case, billions of new SIMs could be vulnerable to hacking, not to mention anything that could or has been done before.

 

Why were SIMs not ditched earlier?

SIM cards are a rather odd relic in the usually fast packed, cut throat, market of mobile tech. Most redundant technology would have been eradicated years ago, but the SIM survived.

Dr Markus Kuhn, Senior Lecturer in Computer Science at University of Cambridge, believes that the SIM could have been succeeded many years ago.

“The fact is that the SIM could have been replaced long ago with a simpler alternative: typing in a user identifier and password directly into the phone is an option”

Aside from SIM manufactures, who are naturally against crippling their own business, (It’s estimated 5.2 billion SIM cards were sold globally in 2014) the major opposition to the switch appears to be network operators.

Communication giants want to keep users on the SIM card because it gives them the chance to tie customers to their network.

Anyone who’s changed mobile networks will know SIM swapping and number transferring is a mild ordeal in itself. Critics believe that the networks are keeping the SIM alive to prevent an all-out customer grabbing war.

So what’s the alternative?

As SIMs are effectively just a complex ID card, the actual circuitry nature could be very easily replaced by safer and simple codes.

DR Kuhn believes we’ve had the technology available to replace SIMs for years.

User IDs and password directly input into the phone is an option – just as we do to access WiFi,’

 

Unlike 1991 modern cryptographic techniques mean that passwords don’t need to be as long as they used to be. Simple 5 digit words or codes can effectively generate complex ‘unhackable’ passkeys.

Why should we move now?

Aside from the security and autonomy from networks, ditching the SIM would allow users more freedom.

Users could easily switch tariffs or providers if they went on holiday, as to not incur roaming charges. Or they could have multiple pay-as-you-go accounts on one phone, allowing then to switch if a better offer came up with a different provider.phone tracking title

22 COMMENTS

  1. Not sure I like the idea of getting rid of the SIM – to transfer your number and account from one phone to another, just swap the SIM.

    I’d hate to have yet another flaming password!

  2. imagine all your data in the cloud ? contacts, text, pictures, documents…
    currently all windows phones works like that, when I change my phone, log into my windows account and I have it all on my new phone ,

  3. The word is ‘eradicated’ not ‘irradiated.’ You would still be locked into the provider by the phone number anyway. You can already have multiple providers and SIM cards and just swap them over, or have more than one phone. Multiple SIM Card phones are available too. I have never had a hacking problem as I use passwords that are unique, rather than the defaults like 0000 or 1234 etc. Just use a little grey matter guys

  4. “Simple 5 digit words or codes can effectively generate complex ‘unhackable’ passkeys.”

    How does that work, then? If it’s just a five digit PIN, say, there are only 100,000 possible combinations to try. How does that make it “unhackable”?

  5. irradiate

    verb
    past tense: irradiated; past participle: irradiated
    1.
    expose (someone or something) to radiation.
    synonyms: treat with radiation, expose to radiation, X-ray
    “the patients were irradiated”
    2.
    illuminate (something) by or as if by shining light on it.
    “happiness filled her, irradiating her whole face”

  6. The phone operators are crapping themselves. For too long they have tried to tie us down. I have had a dual sim phone for several years now which means phone use abroad is very reasonable and gives two fingers to EE et al.

  7. Matthew, that’s not a good enough reason to keep the SIM, “it’s an inconvenience to remember another password”. Are you suggesting our privacy is worth that little? Removing SIMS from phones is a great idea and it will allow phones to be made smaller and allow for “dual or even tri SIM phones” with simply adding a new account, i.e. in France, get a French carrier, in the UK use your UK carrier, making it much more cost effective. A simple encrypted password manger like Lastpass and Ubikey make it impossible to hacked (https://www.yubico.com/ https://lastpass.com/). Like the Lord of the Rings, one account to manage them all.

    Anonymous, who stores anything on a SIM? What is everything else that needs a SIM for data? The SIM doesn’t provide data, it provides access to the network and the APN or “gateway” like on a pc or mac allows internet access. You don’t need a SIM in a phone to get data, if you have WIFI and all apps work fine, so I fail to see your point. If you have a Gmail account you should be using your Gmail account to store your details as contacts and similar if you’re an IOS user, you then never have to back up your contacts again.

    Its time loose this unsafe and outdated bit of hardware. One last point, the less devices or items we have interacting the less can be fiddled with by GCHQ and the NSA.

    Wayne

  8. Matthew, that’s not a good enough reason to keep the SIM, “it’s an inconvenience to remember another password”. Are you suggesting our privacy is worth that little? Removing SIMS from phones is a great idea and it will allow phones to be made smaller and allow for “dual or even tri SIM phones” with simply adding a new account, i.e. in France, get a French carrier, in the UK use your UK carrier, making it much more cost effective. A simple encrypted password manger like Lastpass and Ubikey make it impossible to hacked (https://www.yubico.com/ https://lastpass.com/). Like the Lord of the Rings, one account to manage them all.

    Anonymous, who stores anything on a SIM? What is everything else that needs a SIM for data? The SIM doesn’t provide data, it provides access to the network and the APN or “gateway” like on a pc or mac allows internet access. You don’t need a SIM in a phone to get data, if you have WIFI and all apps work fine, so I fail to see your point. If you have a Gmail account you should be using your Gmail account to store your details as contacts and similar if you’re an IOS user, you then never have to back up your contacts again.

    Its time loose this unsafe and outdated bit of hardware. One last point, the less devices or items we have interacting the less can be fiddled with by GCHQ and the NSA.

  9. Personally I would welcome the demise of the SIM card, we in the UK have been milked for every penny by the network providers.
    It does concern me that the UK government are embroiled in this scenario and I suspect that they would not get involved in regulating out the SIM cards.
    At least you would be able to vote with your feet more efficiently with no SIM cards.

  10. As many might be aware of have used the technology, each would have a on-line account where all the data (Contact numbers, photos, videos and messages etc) could be stored on a pc/laptop and this would make it easier to transfer between handsets.

    Also, it also make more business to police, criminals and most of all – Airtime companies who would prefer to have long term contracts. As more and more mobile phone companies are selling phones (Apple, Samsung mostly) due to their quality, technology and price competitiveness, they are less dependant on Airtime companies (EE, O2 Virgin etc) and hence it is time to move on to simless contract phones – like we have in Far-east, China and India.

    European business have been extremely nasty (almost criminal) to restrict free communication in their respective country/countries – specially BT while, the rest of the world have been using free calls and video conferencing service. Imagine, BT charging £ 2.90 pm and calling card charge 0.01 pence for the same destination. Time to ditch the dumb and adopt the latest.!!

  11. Not sure the sim could have been irradiated years ago. Iradicated maybe? Pedantic maybe but I am surprised no one proof read the article.

  12. The security analysis of this is just plain wrong. 5 character passwords are not secure. Yes it generates a strong cryptographic key, but the password is then vulnerable to a brute force attack. Also, by switching to user IDs, we would be switching to a system where users could accidentally leak their details. With SIMs, the key is embedded on the chip, and therefore users do bit have direct access to it.

  13. Personally, I think this idea would work just fine and allow us to get much better deals and tariffs when we upgrade our phones. Plus, Apple have already proven that this would work, as they already do with their cloud backup service. Like most, I have an iPhone 5c and with it, the ability to backup all my contacts, messages, photo’s, movies, apps, and more to a FREE cloud account. Then, when I upgrade say to the iPhone 6 later on down the road, I can then simply download and install the latest backup data from the cloud and as a result, everything is kept up to date on my NEW phone. You see, my first phone 25 years back was a Panasonic carry along type suitcase, which had a car battery strapped under it which was then very heavy, lasted a few hours between charges, and no means to transfer a contact list to another phone. Plus, transferring one SIM card to another phone and having it update your contacts listing was a hit or miss issue, and depended highly on the two phones being compatible. Therefore, I think 25 years on we should be looking towards a means of securing both our phones and their data more effectively from hackers and as a result, the SIM card is long overdue for retirement.

  14. “Unlike 1991 modern cryptographic techniques mean that passwords don’t need to be as long as they used to be. Simple 5 digit words or codes can effectively generate complex ‘unhackable’ passkeys.”

    Sorry but that’s absolute rubbish. It’s the length, rather than the complexity, of the password that makes it strong and current thinking says that it should be a minimum of 10 characters. Have a look at http://xkcd.com/936/ for info.

  15. The above over simplified the role of the sim. There is a good description on wikipedia and it mentions a sim free phone shown at 2015 GSM congress

  16. Nobody ever proof reads anything Ebuyer publishes. Neither the facts, grammar or spellings are checked. Adding up to editorial pieces that claim to be factual topical content that are really nothing more than poorly thought out opinion pieces.

    Its unfortunate, as they’re a great online store.

    Its evidently more of a ‘Flog’ than a blog.

  17. Pretty much every person “might” swap their sim card over annually, but one of the advantages of a sim card is that shold your phone get damaged you can buy or borrow another one and be up and running instantly WITH all your numbers even if away from home

    The idea that a sim card is “inconvenient” is kind of bizare, and adds a level of physical security in that in most cases someone would need to get access to your actual sim to clone it or copy it and as most people rarely let their phone out of their sight its pretty secure

    I dare say that were they to be replaced by passwords there would pretty quickly be a virus or even an app on the market that would collect or forward all passcodes entered onto a phone similar to keyloggers on a PC

    And lets not forget that simcards themselves already ALSO have password protection on top of the physical aspect

    I personally cant see any decent or valid reasons for phasing out sim cards and its telling that even the industry likes them still

    The idea they “lock” you to the network when so many people already operate twin sim phones, use a different sim when on holiday, get their phone and tablet sims from different companies AND move their number when they swap providers each year does pretty much negate the claim completely

    If anything I think sims need to be expanded so that they have MUCH more memory and that networks should perhaps offer upgraded sims with 16-128gb of memory in them and then get phone manufacturers to make the sim card slot able to read it so that phones can have an internal permanent memory expansion as well as an SD card slot for temporary memory cards too

    Now that WOULD be an improvement

  18. Also which I forgot to type, the nonsense about cloud back up being a huge reason for getting rid of sim cards is a bit redundant as you can do that anyway whether you have a sim card or not, you can also do the exact same thing to your PC so none of that is really linked to the presence or lack of a sim card at all its just something you can already do on most phones despite them having a sim card

    Call me old fashioned but I much prefer the simplicity of having a sim card with a medium stregnth password I get to pick myself rather than having to have a high security password that not only is likely to be hard to remember especially if you rarely if ever have to enter it but one that as with other high security passwords most probably wont be able to be repeated so if you DO ever forget it you will have to pick another one that will in many cases be even harder to remember

    I personally last had to type in my sim password perhaps 15 months ago as an example, because I havent changed my phone since then

    I hardly class having to take the back off to swap my sim once a year as being “a pain” or too much effort to carry on having sim cards lol

    And as I have to open the phone to remove my memory card when I change phones anyway its practically no extra effort at all

    So my view personally is that the industry can shove sim free phones and contactless payment as both are likely to be a lot less secure than what we alread have once the hackers decide to target them

  19. SIM Cards must come to End in 2016 onwards ?,There must be alternative ways to connect to tablets -smartphones to service providers ,electronic activated without additional gadgets ,There many types of sims and some do not fit these products ,the latest is multi sim ,Tablet ,Computers,Smartphones Makers must have standard connection technology a simpler way with GB usage metering .

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