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TUCoPS :: Phreaking Cellular - Misc. :: cellthe.txt

Cellular Phreaking Theory





                          Cellular Phreaking Theory


        The cellular/mobile phone system is one that is perfectly set up to be
exploited by phreaks with the proper knowledge and equipment.  Thanks to
deregulation, the regional BOC's (Bell Operating Companies) are scattered and
do not communicate much with each other.  Phreaks can take advantage of this
by pretending to be mobile phone customers whose "home base" is a city served
by a different BOC, known as a "roamer".  Since it is impractical for each BOC
to keep track of the customers of all the other BOC's, they will usually allow
the customer to make the calls he wishes, often with a surcharge of some sort.

The bill is then forwarded to the roamer's home BOC for collection.  However,
it is fairly simple (with the correct tools) to create a bogus ID number for
your mobile phone, and pretend to be a roamer from some other city and state,
that's "just visiting".  When your BOC tries to collect for the calls from
your alleged "home BOC", they will discover you are not a real customer; but
by then, you can create an entirely new electronic identity, and use that
instead.

        How does the cellular system know who is calling, and where they are?

When a mobile phone enters a cell's area of transmission, it transmits its
phone number and its 8 digit ID number to that cell, who will keep track of it
until it gets far enough away that the sound quality is sufficiently
diminished, and then the phone is "handed off" to the cell that the customer
has walked or driven into.  This process continues as long as the phone has
power and is turned on.  If the phone is turned off (or the car is), someone
attempting to call the mobile phone will receive a recording along the lines
of "The mobile phone customer you have dialed has left the vehicle or driven
out of the service area."   When a call is made to a mobile phone, the
switching equipment will check to see if the mobile phone being called is
"logged in", so to speak, or present in one of the cells.  If it is, the call
will then act (to the speaking parties) just like a normal call - the caller
may hear a busy tone, the phone may just ring, or the call may be answered.

        How does the switching equipment know whether or not a particular
phone is authorized to use the network?  Many times, it doesn't.  When a
dealer installs a mobile phone, he gives the phone's ID number (an 8 digit
hexadecimal number) to the local BOC, as well as the phone number the BOC
assigned to the customer.  Thereafter, whenever a phone is present in one of
the cells, the two numbers are checked - they should be registered to the same
person.  If they don't match, the telco knows that an attempted fraud is
taking place (or at best, some transmission error) and will not allow calls to
be placed or received at that phone.  However, it is impractical (especially
given the present state of deregulation) for the telco to have records of
every cellular customer of every BOC.  Therefore, if you're going to create a
fake ID/phone number combination, it will need to be "based" in an area that
has a cellular system (obviously), has a different BOC than your local area
does, and has some sort of a "roamer" agreement with your local BOC.

        How can one "phreak" a cellular phone?  There are three general areas
when phreaking cellular phones; using one you found in an unlocked car (or an
unattended walk-about model), modifying your own chip set to look like a
different phone, or recording the phone number/ID number combinations sent by
other local cellular phones, and using those as your own.  Most cellular
phones include a crude "password" system to keep unauthorized users from using
the phone - however, dealers often set the password (usually a 3 to 5 digit
code) to the last four digits of the customer's mobile phone number.  If you
can find that somewhere on the phone, you're in luck.  If not, it shouldn't be
TOO hard to hack, since most people aren't smart enough to use something
besides "1111", "1234", or whatever.  If you want to modify the chip set in a
cellular phone you bought (or stole), there are two chips (of course, this
depends on the model and manufacturer, yours may be different) that will need
to be changed - one installed at the manufacturer (often epoxied in) with the
phone's ID number, and one installed by the dealer with the phone number, and
possible the security code.  To do this, you'll obviously need an EPROM burner

as well as the same sort of chips used in the phone (or a friendly and
unscrupulous dealer!).  As to recording the numbers of other mobile phone
customers and using them; as far as I know, this is just theory... but it
seems quite possible, if you've got the equipment to record and decode it.
The cellular system would probably freak out if two phones (with valid
ID/phone number combinations) were both present in the network at once, but it
remains to be seen what will happen.

        Note/Disclaimer:  Ok, I don't pretend to know everything about
cellular phones; I've screwed around with them a little, but I figured I'd
make a file with the things I've learned about them, to at least share what I
know and possible bring about further discussion.

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