Perhaps one of the most common trends in modern murder mystery movies, and television shows is the cloned cell phone and surprisingly enough the idea of the cloned cell phone is based in reality.

What is it?

So what is cell phone cloning? In a very basic sense cloning enables one phone to make and receive calls while having all those calls appear to be coming from an entirely different phone.

At one time cloning a cell phone was surprisingly and disturbingly easy, and still is in many developing nations like India where it is considered a huge problem. These older cell phones, known as analogue phones, are actually known for their lack of security. All it used to take to clone a phone was getting a hold of a cell phone’s unique identifying numbers. Older and analogue cell phones utilize a plain narrowband FM which allowed for anyone to casually listen in on phone conversations. In the early days this could be done with something as simple as a baby monitor. The cloner could intercept Electrical Serial Numbers (ESN) and Mobile Directory Numbers (MDN), or Cellular Telephone Number (CTN) with some very simple equipment.

Once these numbers are known they could then be entered into a secret menu that was hidden inside of the cell phone. Once those numbers were entered you could reenact you favorite parts of the movie Scream, or at the very least make calls on another person’s dime.

Why do it?

There is more than one answer to this. The first and most obvious answer is, as referred to earlier, money. A person who has cloned a phone can sell that phone to some unscrupulous person or keep it for themselves and make as many phone calls to anywhere in the world they want. The victim of the cloned cell phone would be none the wiser until they receive an exorbitantly high phone bill that doesn’t match their usage. The cloner can also do something a bit more insidious. The cloner can stalk their intended victim. They can set the phone options so that the duplicate phone rings whenever the original phone is used to make a phone call. The user of the original phone would have no idea that anyone was listening in on their phone calls. The cloner can read text messages, phone book entries, look at pictures, nearly anything that is done on the original phone will show up on the cloned phone.

Is the industry in decline?

Because cloning a cell phone is not quite so easy any more, it could be argued that the effectiveness of cloning is extremely limited. Widespread fraud naturally led to carriers instituting more security measures, one of the first being a PIN that would be needed before making calls or using a system known as radio fingerprinting so carriers could detect clones. These security measures, plus the security algorithms placed on communications channels are in place for the specific purpose of preventing cloning. Carriers are able to use the radio fingerprint to detect discrepancies.

Today to even get the needed numbers a person would have to hack the targeted phones cellular carrier’s database, or even purchasing specialize and expensive equipment to sniff out and grab the special numbers from the actual air waves. This second method would require that a person has the SIM card, or at the very least physical access to it in order to complete the process.

That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Cloners are constantly tracking down the loopholes within the system, and because of that ever year millions of dollars in revenue are lost by carriers because of cloning.

Criminal enterprises, many times incredibly organized, can afford the equipment and other extensive resources needed for cloning phones. Criminals use cloned phones because the calls are never billed to the person with the cloned phone and so are nearly impossible to trace. The cloned phones let the criminal make dozens of calls, and then throw the phone away.

9is made from the same phone number five minutes later but over two hundred miles from New York City. It is not really possible for the average person to move two hundred miles in five minutes. That is a clear indication that a cell phone has been cloned.

The immediate reaction for many carriers is to shut off phone service and then wait for the actual customer to call and ask why their service has stopped. This only stops cloners from using that phone though, not from cloning cell phones.

There are preventative measures carriers have taken to prevent phones form being cloned. One of the best ways is the Authentication. This is a mathematical process in which calculations are performed by the network and by the phone. The calculations are identical and utilize something called a key that is pre programmed in the phone as well as in the network. The network then determines if the calculations match.

Cloners don’t usually have access to the key, and so cannot have their phones match the duplicate key in the network. Using the matching key authentication method has become the standard for routing out cloning, and is effective for the most part.