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Entries in mobile spam (5)

Monday
Jun162014

The unfortunate case of Ms Zhao 

Fake mobile base stations are rife in China. A single GSM transceiver costs around 50,000 yuan ($8,000) and can be used to profitably blast out SMS ads to hawk property, massages, fake receipts and other services over a small area.

It’s only one part of China’s massive mobile spam problem, which runs at some 400 billion SMS a year, but given that this leaves a transaction trail, identifying the spammers pose no problem for even the dimmest investigator.

Indeed, as this blog has reported, it didn't take much for a Beijing newspaper reporter to do exactly that, and it was only after his disclosures that authorities troubled themselves to act. Bear in mind that as well as harassing users with junk messages and often promoting illegal services, the unauthorised signals also caused calls to drop. 

Now that authorities have been nudged into action, a media campaign is underway to reassure a concerned nation that their government is working diligently working to rid the airwaves of this hitherto hidden scourge.

One of these reports prompted a Beijing student to contemplate the illegal base stations as a means of sharing information about the not-quite forgotten events of 1989. Zhao Huaxu rashly shared this thought in a tweet which, unlike the torrents of overlooked spam, quickly attracted official attention. So much that they took her into custody, which in turn caught the attention of the twittersphere.

I confess my attention was caught by the fact that Ms Zhao is a student at my old college in Beijing. While she is merely one of several truckloads of citizens preemptively arrested and criminalised in the panicky months leading to the anniversary that cannot be mentioned, her plight and background recalls the naïve youths I shared a campus with many years ago.

Although a campaign is afoot to have her released, her prospects are extremely dim. As well as the privations of custody, she presumably faces the end of the college education for which she and her parents had sweated for so many years.

All of which reminds us once more that in this country official indifference to the inconvenience and harassment of ordinary citizens is matched only the unflinching persecution of harmless teenagers.

Thursday
Mar272014

At last, a mobile spam crackdown

Chinese police have finally cracked down on mobile base station spoofing, the source of an epidemic in mobile spam, reportedly arresting 1,530 people in a nationwide sweep over the past month.

According to the official Xinhua news service, a joint effort by nine government agencies has destroyed 24 “production dens”, seized 2,600 unlicensed base stations and uncovered 3,540 cases of fraud.

As this blog reported in December, one survey estimated that 200 billion mobile spam messages were sent in the first half of last year – roughly one a day for every single user in the country.

But it’s hard to overlook that this assault on spam began only after a prominent newspaper revealed the extent of the problem:

The Beijing News recently related the tale of a professional spammer who roams the Chinese capital with a small cell transceiver in his van, charging 1,000 yuan ($164) to reach thousands of users within several hundred metres.

The spammer, Guo Peng, said he had five GSM small cells, each costing around 50,000 yuan ($8,220), with which he earns up to 5,000 yuan a day. He can send out 6,000 messages in half an hour via the China Mobile or China Unicom networks. Guo said he knew at least 20 others in the business in Beijing, each with multiple base stations.

It’s difficult also not to contrast the belated interest in spam with the meticulous shutdown of unappetising political content on first Sina Weibo and now WeChat. One survey estimates that Weibo posts may have fallen by as much 70% after a series of campaigns last year.

Bear in mind, too, that mobile spamming is not victimless – it works by shielding an operator’s signal, causing calls to drop, not to mention the fraud and other criminal activities that spam enables. Plus of course the sheer annoyance to users. But these aren’t priorities.

Friday
Dec062013

China spammers’ latest weapon: fake base stations  

When your blogger lived in Beijing I used to turn my phone off at night so as not to be disturbed by spam texts for massage services and fake receipts.

That was six years ago. Not much has changed.

One recent study concluded that 200 billion spam SMS were sent to Chinese mobile phones in the first half of the year – that’s more than 180 for each user, or one a day. In big cities like Beijing and Guangzhou, that rises to around 2.5 per day.

The economics of this might seem puzzling, given the cost of sending SMS. But not if you have your own base station. 

The Beijing News recently related the tale of a professional spammer who roams the Chinese capital with a small cell transceiver in his van, charging 1,000 yuan ($164) to reach thousands of users within several hundred metres.

The spammer, Guo Peng, said he had five GSM small cells, each costing around 50,000 yuan ($8,220), with which he earns up to 5,000 yuan a day. He can send out 6,000 messages in half an hour via the China Mobile or China Unicom networks. Guo said he knew at least 20 others in the business in Beijing, each with multiple base stations.

Reportedly, Guo’s spoof base station shields the operator's signal for up to 20 seconds at a time, during which it transmits to handsets in the area. Anyone who is on the phone at the time will lose their call – in some cases they may even have to reboot the phone to get their signal back. 

Guo said he used the China Mobile recharge number as his transmit number – “it’s a lot more credible.” 

The story emerged from a Beijing News journalist who teamed along with a businessman friend who had hired Guo to promote his local supermarket.

Guo picked them up in his van on a street in southern Beijing and drove to a seafood market near the supermarket. Guo’s colleague in the backseat fired up the small cell through a laptop and within 20 minutes had sent 2,593 texts.

In the half hour while he was sending spams, he took ten phone calls, all apparently from prospective customers. Clients included travel firms, real estate developers, even gun dealers and spammers themselves – they like to eat their own dog food, which surely makes them not hard to find. 

An official at the Beijing Communications Bureau said base station spoofing was on the rise but “very hard” to investigate.

Guo says he once had a call from a police officer about a text he’d sent, but he explained it away as “a joke”.

Guo and other spammers are helped by bureaucratic boundaries. The police are not interested unless it involves illegal activity, so the relevant authority is the State Administration of Industry & Commerce, which regulates commercial activity.

The scale of the problem also underlines the indifference of operators to their customers, not to mention  the limited competition between them.

The journalist even tracked down a store that specialised in selling unauthorised small cells. A staff member, Ms Li, said the biggest buyers were large shopping malls – yet somehow this store and its customers are too elusive for China’s well-resourced bureaucrats.

Thursday
Feb162012

China SMS spam keeps on coming

With an estimated 140 billion messages sent last year, China's SMS spam problem looks to be getting worse.

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Oct272011

Seeing ‘red’ over mobile spam

A Guangzhou mobile user set off a minor brouhaha last week when he accidentally uncovered the existence of an exclusive “do-not-spam” list for senior officials. The user, infuriated by the ads clogging his mobile phone, had sued his wireless operator.

Click to read more ...