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Cellphones Crime Security Technology

Thieves in South Africa Hit Traffic Lights For SIM Cards 181

Posted by Soulskill
from the proceed-with-caution dept.
arisvega writes "Some 400 high-tech South African traffic lights are out of action after thieves in Johannesburg stole the mobile phone SIM cards they contain. JRA (Johannesburg Road Agency) said it is investigating the possibility of an 'inside job' after only the SIM card-fitted traffic lights were targeted. The cards were fitted to notify JRA when the traffic lights were faulty. 'We have 2,000 major intersections in Johannesburg and only 600 of those were fitted with the cards,' the agency's spokesperson Thulani Makhubela told the BBC. 'No-one apart from JRA and our supplier knows which intersections have that system.' The thieves ran up bills amounting to thousands of dollars by using the stolen cards to make calls."
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Thieves in South Africa Hit Traffic Lights For SIM Cards

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  • by daid303 (843777) on Saturday January 08, 2011 @07:56PM (#34809318)

    Yes. And it works most of the time.

    Security in the world of road side traffic systems is almost none existent. It's simply not a priority. You cannot pull of a "all green chaos attack" as in "the italian job" (safety systems protect unsafe situations), but you can cause major gridlock with ease if you know what you are doing.

    We fit a lot of our systems with wireless GSM, it's pretty cheap but not that reliable. However, we arrange it so you cannot use those sims for calling, only GPRS/UMTS/3G connections to a private network.

    (I could tell a thing or 2 about the speed camera's we produce, but that would break my NDA I guess)

  • by QuantumBeep (748940) on Saturday January 08, 2011 @07:57PM (#34809320)

    The cost of GSM data isn't very high when all you're sending is "help I'm not working correctly". Since the link serves no other purpose, four bytes should be enough to send a basic diagnostic code.

    SIM cards cost about ten cents, basic GSM hardware maybe a few dollars, and I think it's safe to assume all the poles are on a shared data plan.

  • by slincolne (1111555) on Saturday January 08, 2011 @07:58PM (#34809338)
    If the lights had a GSM enabled device included, then there would have been an antenna somewhere on the assembly.

    Isn't it possible that the thieves worked this out, and only targeted the lights with the antennas ?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 09, 2011 @03:13AM (#34812512)

    It should be possible to triangulate where a phone is with a stolen simcard. If several cells don't overlap the phone at least you know the neighborhood.

      Stealing sim cards is a no-brainer.

    Triangulation isn't as easy as it sounds. First, to be accurate you'll need a minimum of three towers in range, and in real life application you probably will need closer to 5 or 6 to get a real-time fix on a location.

    On paper triangulation is simple; draw three circles with radius equal to the signal strenght, and your intersection point is the origin. But this is an ideal case. In real life signal strength will vary quite a bit just by moving around or changing the direction of the antenna. So for each of those original three circles you really have to draw two circles; one representing the closest the phone could be with that strength, and another representing the furthest. Do this with all three circles, and it's the intersecting area which shows the location. However, this isn't a point, and especially in dense population areas the 'location' can easily encompass a large chunk of the city.

    So if you're talking about finding someone on a wide-open flat grassy plain, then it's pretty simple. Get into a city with a lot of tall buildlings, landform variation, etc. and it's just not that easy to do. And even if you can get the location narrowed to within a few hundred yards, in many cities that can mean thousands of potential suspects.

  • by Vlado (817879) on Sunday January 09, 2011 @05:55AM (#34813128) Homepage

    That often doesn't matter in South Africa.

    Lots of traffic lights (called "robots" over there) are often times out of commission, because people are stealing power cables for copper that they contain. If they go to trouble of getting into powered cables under ground do you really think a small thing like a lock is going to matter?

  • BEE hard at work (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Arador Aristata (1973216) on Sunday January 09, 2011 @06:25AM (#34813242)
    I work for a South African Construction Company as a SysAdmin and I have to say I was not surprised when I saw this. It is quite stupid when you consider that it is very simple and cost effective to arrange a private APN with the Cell Companies and link SIM cards to it so those sims act like VPN connections, only being able to connect to your network. We do it for about 200 people so how they didn't do something similar and used stock SIM cards I really do not know. Actually I do. There are a range of factors in South Africa that leads to stupid mistakes like this. Firstly there are the power failures. Poorly maintained infrastructure, poor capacity planning, the power is bound to go down even without the summer rain storms. Then you have the fact that Government will only give contracts to Companies with insanely high Black Economic Empowerment levels. You get different levels but to obtain the highest ones you basically have to be an all black company and by from all black suppliers. The problem is, and I know this from job hunting as well as recruiting, that there is a massive skills shortage in South Africa. It is very hard to find a capable IT Professional of any race, and 10 times as hard to find a black one to keep your HR department happy on their quotas. So what happens? You HAVE to employ a black person, but there isn't one with the skills you need so you employ the brightest looking one and train them yourself. But when you have an entire company filled with these types of recruitments there isn't anyone to train the rest. So you have a High Level BEE company that can tender for Government work but who do not really have a clue as to what they are doing. Add to this some bad apples that will leak this info to some shady friends and you have a situation like this. Strangely, I do not think this is not a JRA inside job. They just bought the system. This had to have been an inside job from the IT company that designed the system and knew the SIMs could be used for normal phone calls. Then again, that info could have been slipped to the JRA and the leaked out there. All and all this is what happens when you have a skills shortage in a country and then still try to force companies to employ only certain races regardless if they have the skills or not.

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