M2M security tip: mind your SIMs

17 Jan 2011

For cellcos looking at M2M services like smart meters and smart traffic light systems, a word of caution: thieves will try to steal the SIM cards and rack up thousands of dollars in phone calls on them.

As they’ve reportedly been doing in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The Johannesburg Roads Agency (JRA) has installed 600 high-tech traffic lights rigged with GPRS modems and SIM cards to alert the JRA head office if a light malfunctions.

But criminals have been targeting the lights, stealing the SIMs from about two-thirds of them and using them to make phone calls worth millions of rand, reports the Guardian (to say nothing of causing traffic chaos by knocking the lights offline in the first place).

The stolen SIMs have since been blocked, but adding insult to injury is the fact that the labor cost of repairing the damaged lights is higher than the cost of the actual SIM cards being stolen. With each light costing 22,000 rand (a little over $3,100) to repair, the total repair bill so far is likely to cost the city close to $1.3 million.

The JRA says its in talks with its technology supplier to work out how to improve security. Presumably that security assessment will take into account the apparent fact that the thieves are hitting only the SIM-enabled traffic lights, rather than the regular ones that look the same, says JRA spokesperson Thulani Makhubela.

“They know which signals to target,” Makhubela told the Guardian. “They clearly have information.”

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