back to article UK government rings the death knell for SIM farms

The UK government plans to introduce new legislation to ban SIM farms, which it views as a widely abused means for carrying out cyber fraud. Upon introduction of the criminal offense, violating it will incur a penalty of an unlimited fine, the government said. SIM farms are defined as devices that can hold four or more SIM …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ban banning things

    If I were a criminal, I'd pop across to Europe somewhere, buy a multi-sim capable device and bring it back to the UK. Then setup shop as normal. I can't see how a ban is going to prevent that.

    If maybe I got sea sick so didn't fancy taking a ferry to France, then I'd buy a raft of cheap Android phones, with one sim in each and setup my sim farm that way. One computer can happily connect to dozens of individual phones, so it really needn't be that difficult. Again, a ban doesn't seem to be useful.

    Hell, I'm sure a suitably wily criminal could produce a side-loaded app for a phone which lets it be "remotely controlled" to send/receive texts/calls over the network. You don't even need to put them all in the same building - you could have them physically located all over the country in your teenage mules bedrooms, in the back room of your club and in the wife's underwear drawer. The 'controller' can be a couple of your henchmen and a computer safely ticked up in a house in Elbonia - far from the annoying jurisdiction of the UK. Again, the ban seems pointless.

    Suffice to say, however they choose to operate, the criminal fraternity are infinitely more inventive and adaptable than any amount of the government. I predict this will be largely a pointless endeavour. Are our government ministers and their stooges in the departments really not able to see this sort of thing?

    When I see these sorts of things, I'm always left wondering why does the government feel it *needs* to do these things. WIth so many other problems, why "die on this particular hill"? I'm sure money has its part to play, but even still, it seem weird to me.

    1. elsergiovolador Silver badge

      Re: Ban banning things

      This is classic Sunak's hot air thing. Just announce something that sounds great on the surface, but doesn't actually achieve anything.

      He and his government has voters in contempt if he thinks people are that gullible.

      1. cyberdemon Silver badge
        Holmes

        Re: Ban banning things

        It will achieve lots as another chilling effect for honest & legitimate uses of electronics though.

        Trying to develop an open-source phone? Sorry, not allowed in the UK now!

      2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Ban banning things

        I'm sure Blair2.0 can fix it by merely requiring some form of identification to buy a SIM, perhaps in the form of a card ?

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Ban banning things

        It's hardly specific to Sunak though.

        This has been around since at least the days of Jim Hacker:

        "Something must be done. This is something. Therefore we must do it"

        1. VBF
          Happy

          Re: Ban banning things

          Yes Minister

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Ban banning things

      Why bother? You could lash up the equivalunt with a pile of phones connected to a PC via a USB hub. Wouldn't suprise me if software-wise all you need is Phone Link. Worst case, you write some code.

    3. Captain Hogwash

      Re: produce a side-loaded app

      Such apps already exist, for Android at least. I use one in order to be able to send and receive SMS from the number everybody knows, at my domestic rate, regardless of where I am in the world.

      It also prevents those who know that number and would track my movements via VLR/HLR data from being able to do so.

      1. jackalek

        Re: produce a side-loaded app

        And the name of such app is....?

        Captain?

        1. Captain Hogwash

          Re: produce a side-loaded app

          Forgive the lateness, I've been ill.

          SmsMatrix is what I use. It requires a couple of Matrix accounts. I'd recommend self-hosted unless you want to count responses in geological time.

          MAXS and its various modules are also available but I found it less reliable. This would require XMPP rather than Matrix.

    4. sev.monster Silver badge

      Re: Ban banning things

      About as effective on the butterknife ban preventing people from getting stabbed. Governments seem to exist to push useless legislature, not fix problems.

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: Ban banning things

        "Governments seem to exist to push useless legislature, not fix problems."

        Solving problems is hard and passing new laws is very easy. It's assumed that if a new law is passed, the politicians are doing something and earning their daily crust. All they are really doing is making it appear they are doing something without needing to put in much effort.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Ban banning things

      If maybe I got sea sick so didn't fancy taking a ferry to France, then I'd buy a raft of cheap Android phones,

      Shhh! Don't mention rafts and channel crossings. It will enrage the gammon.

      1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

        Re: Ban banning things

        If maybe I got sea sick so didn't fancy taking a ferry to France

        You don't get sea sick going under the sea on Eurostar

        1. AndrueC Silver badge
          Meh

          Re: Ban banning things

          You can get motion sick though. I felt a bit queasy when I went through there a few years ago. The lack of windows makes it risky for those of us susceptible to such things.

          1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

            Re: Ban banning things

            Worse in Le Shuttle. It is very weird to be sitting in a car, but feeling the typical motion of a train.

            1. Jan 0 Silver badge

              Re: Ban banning things

              >typical motion of a train ?

              That's by far and away the smoothest train journey I've ever taken. I wouldn't have known we were moving if there weren't windows so that you can glimpse the tunnel outside!

    6. Blackjack Silver badge

      Re: Ban banning things

      Is actually quite easy to spam calls and texts from numbers that don't exist, it happens in a lot of countries including in Argentina.

      Sim Farms use real phone numbers and sim chips are getting passed out of use in many parts of the world.

      So they are basically banning something that won't be in used anyway in a decade or two.

    7. DS999 Silver badge

      Re: Ban banning things

      I'd pop across to Europe somewhere, buy a multi-sim capable device and bring it back to the UK

      Or operate it from the EU using a plan that allows unlimited texting to the UK.

    8. therealmav

      Re: Ban banning things

      If I were a criminal, I'd pop across to Europe somewhere, buy a multi-sim capable device and bring it back to the UK. Then setup shop as normal.

      If I were an enterprising businessman, I’d learn - or find someone who could do it for me - how to build an eSIM farm, build it right here at home and setup shop selling esim farms to people with no questions asked.

    9. David Hicklin Bronze badge

      Re: Ban banning things

      > why does the government feel it *needs* to do these things

      To show that they are doing "something", even if they are unenforceable, hence new laws when existing ones already cover the activity "Look we banned it - problem solved"!

    10. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Ban banning things

      "I'd buy a raft of cheap Android phones, with one sim in each"

      Or a bunch of cheap USB 4G sticks?

  2. ChoHag Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    > "This will give police additional tools to disrupt the vile criminals that target the UK public."

    Are the extra pejorative adjectives supposed to help? This just makes me question the motives of the speaker and ask what my attention is being diverted away from.

    > due to the way in which SIM farms are constructed, they can make the jobs of law enforcement trying to intercept and decode communications data more difficult.

    > a ban "may not be fully effective in preventing criminals from accessing and deploying SIM farms," but would give law enforcement extra powers

    Ah. There it is.

    > The vast majority of respondents to the consultation disagreed with every aspect of the government's plans

    Surprise!

    And while I'm here...

    > However, we will exempt any data-only devices that are not capable of making calls or sending texts.

    Did no-one tell them what the calls and texts are made of?

    1. Jonathon Green
      Holmes

      > "This will give police additional tools to disrupt the vile criminals that target the UK public."

      “Are the extra pejorative adjectives supposed to help? This just makes me question the motives of the speaker and ask what my attention is being diverted away from.”

      It differentiates the targets from the nice polite criminals who went to the right schools and make donations to the right political parties and lobby groups…

      1. Cynical Pie

        I think they are known as Old Etonians rather than criminals these days

    2. Handlebars

      "Did no-one tell them what the calls and texts are made of?"

      The phone networks do distinguish those things, but do you know if a device that is designed as data only (like a 5g router) can be hacked to overcome this? It's all a bit academic since you can just buy a brace of cheap phones anyway.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        high end devices

        I think some high end terminal servers have multiple SIM slots so that you can remote control your devices regardless of carrier network issues. This ridiculous rule will mean that companies like Opengear won't be selling their capable, expensive, stackable, terminal servers in the UK.

        1. sev.monster Silver badge

          Re: high end devices

          Wow, I never heard of Opengear. Those things look very cool. It's like a KVM on 'roids. I see immediate utility in any critical high uptime enterprise.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: high end devices

            There are quite a few companies that make these.

            Make sure you understand what you're doing when configuring cellular-equipped terminal servers since you can open yourself to a world of hurt if you do so incorrectly.

            1. sev.monster Silver badge

              Re: high end devices

              You mean aside from being arrested?

      2. cyberdemon Silver badge

        "Did no-one tell them what the calls and texts are made of?"

        A lot of those walnut-brains in power seem to think that it is the SIM itself that does the inter-wibbling, when in fact it is just an identifier

        Remember when MI5 were shocked to find hidden SIM cards inside diplomatic vehicles? I wonder what they'd make of the trend towards eSIMs..

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Eh ?

    Surely a PC with a massive USB hub and a shedload of 3G dongles would do the job ?

    I am always wary of laws that seem outpaced by technology.

    1. Jad

      Re: Eh ?

      and weirdly; I'm pretty sure that that wouldn't be banned, as it's not a single device ...

      I can see the next step being forcing the carriers to identify/triangulate non-moving sims in high numbers in a very localised area, so as to identify potential breaches ... would make the police's job of finding potential ne'er-do-wells, by catching them potentially on the "SIM farm" law, which is an easy Boolean law, rather than cold calling which is harder to prove ...

      1. Roland6 Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: Eh ?

        >” identify/triangulate non-moving sims in high numbers”

        Good, that excludes the shopping trolley of phones used to mess up navigation apps traffic congestion algorithms, just need to keep walking…

      2. RegGuy1 Silver badge

        Re: Eh ?

        I thought they'd got rid of the police as too expensive.

    2. Sorry that forum user name is already taken.

      Re: Eh ?

      They love to make laws about things they don't understand. I'm in the US, and it's always good for a few laughs when our gov't takes up some law governing technology. "Four blind men describing an elephant" comes to mind. Sounds a lot like InfoSec in my own company. :( And it's downright embarrassing.

  4. elsergiovolador Silver badge

    Ineptitude

    "Our primary objective is to stop criminals accessing SIM farms – it is not our intention to disrupt legitimate business or hinder technological development in the UK,"

    This is a brilliant example of government saying one thing and then doing the opposite.

    Such ban won't make a difference to criminals, but it will make it more difficult for legitimate business to use these kind of devices.

    I guess brown envelopes from companies selling text services flew in.

    1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      Re: Ineptitude

      Think of the children!

      1. Fred Daggy Silver badge
        Meh

        Re: Ineptitude

        Whenever that phrase is uttered by someone trying to push for more uber-powers, that phrase has always stuck me as having 2 words too many. Much better: Children, Think!

      2. sev.monster Silver badge
        Childcatcher

        Re: Ineptitude

        Forgot your icon.

      3. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Ineptitude

        Jimmy Saville always did

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Anyone remember premium rate phone lines ?

    I spent 20 years campaigning to have these require an opt-in, rather than the chargeable opt-out which was the norm.

    So governments pretending they are doing me a favour can FRO.

  6. Mike 137 Silver badge

    "It will also not apply to the Crown"

    By which they implicitly mean the government. Yet another little shuffle towards laws not applying to the 'state' if it finds them inconvenient.

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: "It will also not apply to the Crown"

      That's hardly a new phenomenon, since there have been governments, there have been laws which don't apply to those governments.

      That's practically the definition of what a government is!

  7. markr555

    Poor proof reading

    You commit an offence, not an offense. Offense cannot ever be a noun

    1. heyrick Silver badge
      Meh

      Re: Poor proof reading

      Just another part of the yankification going on around here...

      1. KarMann Silver badge
        Headmaster

        Re: Poor proof reading

        Normally, the yankification doesn't trouble me too much, being an ex-Yank myself. But even I would draw the line at yankifying (dare I say yankifizing?) the spelling in an article about a specifically British subject such as this. Bad El Reg! Bad! No biscuit!

        1. RegGuy1 Silver badge

          Re: Poor proof reading

          Monetize gets my goat. Make money out of...

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Poor proof reading

            Indeed, given that 'exploit', 'commercialise' and 'sell' are existing alternatives.

            The one that gets me is 'burglarize'. Replacing a verb (burgle) with a repurposed noun (burglar)

            Like how athletes hurdlarize in a steeplechase

            1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

              Re: Poor proof reading

              And if they're lucky they medalize or at least podiumize

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Yankification

          has it's uses. Anything telling me about amazing deals for "seniors" for example can get in the bin.

          1. heyrick Silver badge

            Re: Yankification

            Seniors, huh?

            Fifth form was so long ago I don't even remember it.

            (And why was there an Upper Fifth before Sixth? Was it forbidden to count to seven?)

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Yankification

              We had a lower sixth and an upper sixth. It basically meant that you were the folks not in uniform and doing A levels.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Yankification

                We even had a middle sixth, for people who had failed lower sixth and were resitting. Never be allowed these days, can't stigmatise the poor wee souls.

                1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

                  Re: Yankification

                  Makes sense, "Sixth" is REAL not INTEGER

            2. Jan 0 Silver badge
              Headmaster

              Re: Upper Fifth

              Wasn't that for people too thick to go into the Sixth Form, but whose parents didn't want to expose them to harsh realities.

    2. RegGuy1 Silver badge

      Re: Poor proof reading

      Indeed -- verbs use the s, nouns the c: the doctor practises at his practice.

      1. Emir Al Weeq

        Re: Poor proof reading

        ... and you can't remember which is which then I adviSe you to get some adviCe. That one's easy to remember because they are pronounced differently.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Poor proof reading

        I consider myself to be rather well educated (I can read upside down and I don't use spell checkers.) Why am I only hearing this rule for the first time in my fifties?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Poor proof reading

          I think you use a spelling checker (unless you're at Hogwarts).

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    My boss came back from Hong Kong last month

    Every taxi he took had a bank of phones (7 seemed to be the average) for each ride-hailing app.

    Working as he does for a mobile phone accessory distributor, it did suggest a UK version.

    1. Graham Cobb Silver badge

      Re: My boss came back from Hong Kong last month

      If I worked in the gig economy I would use a different number for each company I work with, just like I use a different email address for every single company I deal with in my life today. That way, when I terminate my relationship I never hear from them again, and if they violate my privacy by passing my number on, I know who not to do business with again.

      Of course, I would need all those numbers to actually be usable from a single device. Again, just like I do with all my email addresses today. This is a ridiculous piece of legislation by someone completely out of touch with modern life. One phone, one number? Who's ridiculous idea is that?

      The answer to cold calling is proper enforcement of fines - not banning multi-SIM devices. And with e-sims and VoIP farms, it will completely ineffective for its stated purpose.

      So, what is the real purpose of the ban? For what, presumably secret, purpose do the government rely on MSISDNs for security, meaning they have to limit people having several?

  9. frankster

    Failing to ban esim farms makes the ban pointless. I'm writing this comment from an esim!

    If they're going to ban SIM farms then do it properly or not at all.

    I didn't see any mention of testing or monitoring as use cases that may be exempt..

  10. WonkoTheSane
    Big Brother

    "Ultra Vires"?

    Isn't that the Conservative Party motto these days?

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: "Ultra Vires"?

      Until somebody works out that Latin is European

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "Ultra Vires"?

      s/r/l/

  11. HMcG

    Bulk SMS for businesses is a nice little earner for any of the major carriers. Killing off cheaper competition through captive legislation is always nice.

    I wouldn't've be the slightest surprised if Ben Wallace and/or Tom Tugendhat end up on a nice little 'consultancy' for one of the major mobile providers, for 'services rendered'.

    1. Jan 0 Silver badge

      Tugend?

      Is that my arse or my willy?

      1. cyberdemon Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: Tugend?

        Depends if you're a ndhat or not ..

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    POV Problem Here!

    Quote: "...This will give police additional tools to disrupt the vile criminals that target the UK public...."

    Really?

    How about "additional tools" to prevent "vile criminals" like Wayne Couzens or David Carrick ACTUALLY BEING PART OF THE POLICE in the first place?

    Sigh!.....I know....this c**p from the usual Conservative sock puppet (aka security minister Tom Tugendhat) is just the usual misdirection ("We are doing something").

    1. Elongated Muskrat Silver badge

      Re: POV Problem Here!

      What is actually needed is the opposite of what they are doing: Stop making new laws that the police can't keep up with, and start funding policing (and paying officers) properly. That way, proper vetting can be done, proper training can be given, and we retain the trained officers, rather than losing them all and replacing them with cheaper fresh-faced recruits who don't know what they are doing, but are given a taser to do it with.

  13. 43300 Silver badge

    So the aim is (allegedly) to give those who are intending to break one or more laws another law to break! Yeah, that'll stop 'em!

  14. MachDiamond Silver badge

    I want a 4 SIM phone

    There are plenty of cases where having a phone with multiple SIM/phone numbers are very useful. One line can be a personal number, the second a general business line, the third a preferred customer business number and the forth a local number for another country. This makes it easy to turn the ringer off after business hours and have a local number in another country where you do business frequently rather than needing a stout tool belt to hold multiple phones.

    I have a dual SIM phone with one number for work and one for my personal line. I've thought of getting a third phone number for preferred customers so I can silence my business line after hours as opposed to just forwarding one line. I already use ringtones so I know if I can let a call go to voicemail and call them back shortly or if it's somebody that I will want to drop what I'm doing to pick up.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I want a 4 SIM phone

      I have a 4 SIM phone.

      Unfortunately it's 2G only.

      And the user interface is somewhat idiosyncratic, having been (badly) mapped over from the original Chinese.

      More than two SIMs wasn't possible in 3G because of how the paging worked.

      But now we have IMS Voice that can connect over the data channel of another SIM, I'm surprised we still have a de-facto two SIM limit.

    2. Potty Professor
      Boffin

      Re: I want a 4 SIM phone

      When I was working as a delivery driver, they gave me a mobile phone to keep in the van for business use. I also had my personal phone with me, so I connected that to the van's Hands Free system and set up automatic forwarding on the works' phone to shunt incoming calls to my phone, and thence to the hands free speaker. If I needed to call the shop or a customer, I would park up and use the works' phone to make (and pay for) the call.

  15. Lee D Silver badge

    Oh, no, the fraudsters who are using things to commit fraud might be breaking the law if they obtain those things to commit fraud.

    Whatever will they do?

  16. IGotOut Silver badge

    Legitimate use.

    Many years ago we had a 24 bank SIM "farm" and it was a bloody lifesaver.

    It was used as a back up device when some numpty would decide to put a digger through one of the trunk lines to the exchange. The main 0845's would fail back to the relevant number for a department and out going would choose the first SIM for out going. It was basic but it worked.

    It was later mothballed but then bought back with another 48port one when a site HAD to move offices without fail, but there would be no land line or data for another two weeks.

    We installed them both with external antennas, the 24 bank handled voice and the 48 port handled data over 3g. Again, it was a kludge, but it worked.

    1. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: Legitimate use.

      "We installed them both with external antennas, the 24 bank handled voice and the 48 port handled data over 3g. Again, it was a kludge, but it worked."

      Sometimes a big box of tools lets you solve problems quickly and the next person that needs to solve a problem might also appreciate the same sort of kit.

      I get it, phone farms get used for all sorts of nefarious things, but cars get used by bank robbers all of the time. I'm failing to think of a single time a bank robber ran off on foot, bicycle or skateboard. I suppose they could get lost on the underground, but that's one place that doesn't lack for CCTV.

      It's more important to make criminals pay for their crimes when they get caught as a deterrence. Just banning things like multi-SIM products when they remain freely available in many other parts of the world just keeps them out of the hands of people that will put them to honest use. I could make some good money bringing them into the country in my laptop bag dressed and described as some sort of peripheral sitting next to my laptop. I highly doubt that a customs inspector would look at them twice.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Legitimate use.

      You sold it, then bought it back?

  17. JulieM Silver badge

    Never going to work

    It's simply never going to work.

    All the hardware is already out there, and all the software you need to make it work is Open Source.

    Hell, I've built a few of those devices myself -- and was so impressed, I even bought a little single-SIM one to add to my home Asterisk server, which already had an analogue telephony card to connect my little collection of old landline phones to. So you could dial a mobile number, and an actual, real GPO 746 would ring out ..... and you could dial some interesting things from the 746 .....

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