We usually consider a SIM activated through biometric verification system as the clean, legal and genuine. What if the SIM is verified and activated through the biometric process and still is an illegal SIM?
If you go back in 2014 when the biometric verification of mobile SIMs was first started. The cellular operators, on the wish and guidelines of government and concerned regulators including PTA, poured in billions of rupees for acquiring and installing biometric SIM verification devices.
The primary reason for the biometric verification was to make the SIM activation process seamless, secure and fool proof. However, once again, the process has become vulnerable at the hands of SIM sellers and criminals who are easily getting what they want; an active SIM that is not registered in their names.
It seems that the new system has been ruined out in three years’ time.
Vulnerability of Biometric Verification
As per latest findings the biometric devices used to capture thumb impression of a subscriber and verify it with NADRA’s record before activating a mobile SIM can be easily tricked with a picture or copy of the thumb impression.
Even the master biometric devices are being cloned and sold in the market. Not only this, there are several other ways in practice for cheating the biometric verification system.
On the other hands many culprits are there in the field who fraudulently obtain thumb impression of simple villagers who are not much aware of such imitators. They usually achieve their goals of getting thumb impressions of poor people in the name of providing free food, participation in a Hajj Umra lucky draw program or a free plot.
Despite the fact that biometric SIM verification system is well in place, the incidents of unauthorized SIM activation and transfer of SIM without the consent of users are still in practice.
An official at a leading cellular operator on the condition of anonymity commented that it is the pressure to sell more that is passed on to the franchisees for which they used various methods to sell more SIMs. However, he showed ignorance about tampering with the biometric verification process.
Illegal Mobile SIMs – A Challenge for Agencies
The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has also come across a number of such reports mentioning that biometric devices can easily be fooled by a photocopy of the thumb impression or an adhesive material.
An FIA official explained the issue, “These low-cost devices which are being used at thousands of point of sales all over the country for issuing mobile SIMs do not maintain a high level of precision. In such incidents, a layer of silicon is used which gets embossed by a thumb impression when it is pressed. The impression is later used to activate multiple SIMs without the subscriber getting any clue about multiple activations.”
He further added, “There isn’t a flaw in biometric technology which is considered secure all over the world. However, what matter is how someone uses it.”
Although, PTA and cellular operators deny the existence and issuance of illegal mobile SIMs after biometric SIM verification system, however, SIMs activated without a user’s consent can also be termed as illegal which causes menace for the security agencies.
Pakistan currently boasts 139 million mobile SIM subscribers, and there is a limit of five SIM currently in practice against a particular CNIC in Pakistan. However, dodging a biometric device is still a serious security glitch that authorities and telcos must address before there is a complete ban on the sale of SIMs once again in the name of security.