In a shocking revelation, the Parliament was notified today of over 1,300 cases of IMEI cloning in India between 2009-2012. Minister of State for Communications and IT Milind Deora elaborated in a written reply to Lok Sabha, "The number of cases reported where the same IMEIs have been used in more than 100 cell phones during the last three years (2009, 2010, 2011) are 749 while 569 cases are reported during the current year (2012)."
When asked whether import of unbranded mobile phones posed any security risk, Deora shared that in 2009, the Ministry of Commerce had banned the import of mobile phones without IMEI numbers or with all zeroes IMEI numbers.
Rising instances of IMEI cloning (Image credit: Getty Images)
Deora shared that the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) had issued instructions to mobile phone operators to not process calls from handsets with IMEI numbers not available in the updated IMEI database of GSMA, no IMEI numbers or one with all zeroes. As per instructions, such calls were to be rejected w.e.f. November 30, 2009. He added, "There are instances where mobile phones without proper IMEI have been noticed. It is difficult for security agencies to legally trace a target with such phones when required."
Deora shared that currently there is no online solution that can be put to action to eliminate the use of duplicate and fake IMEI handsets. "However, the issue of use of non-genuine and duplicate IMEI in our mobile network has been acknowledged and a technical committee has been constituted to study and suggest the possible solutions to eliminate the use of non-genuine and duplicate IMEI," he added.
In September this year, the Parliament was informed that as many as 18,000 mobile phones were found to have the same IMEI number. These findings uncovered the grave issue of IMEI cloning in our country a little more. Of late, instances of IMEI cloning have been on the rise. Although cloning of IMEI numbers is not commonplace yet in the case of CDMA handsets, instances of cloning in the case of GSM handsets are aplenty. Mobile handsets with cloned IMEI numbers cannot be tracked, making them a deterrent to national security.
In a reply to the Rajya Sabha, Union Minister Kapil Sibal wrote, "Two cases have come to notice wherein same IMEIs have been used in more than 18,000 cell phones." Sibal went on to add that it was tricky to differentiate between original and duplicate handsets with the same IMEI number. He added, "Department of Telecommunications is examining the issue to find out possible solutions to resolve the issue of illegal IMEI and use of same IMEI in different cell phones."
An IMEI or International Mobile Equipment Identity number is a unique 15-digit code that is assigned to a handset and is unique to GSM, WCDMA and iDEN mobile phones as well as some satellite phones. To view the IMEI number of a handset, dial *#06#. It works on most keypads. The IMEI number flashes on the operator's network when a call is made and allows authorities to track user. Understandably, with IMEI cloning, security and law enforcement agencies will find it tough to know who the actual user is.
Even as the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is working towards curbing the menace of fake IMEI numbers in the country, an incident of IMEI tampering came to light, recently. Reports went on to confirm that the Patna police have arrested six persons for changing the IMEI numbers of cellphones and SIM cards without the phone owner's permission. They then used them on stolen phones to commit crime.