04 January, 2022
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The Problem with Centralized Blacklists and How to Remedy Them

04 January, 2022

The rise of smartphone theft, challenges with centralized IMEI blacklists, and decentralized NFT solutions.

Smartphones are an integral part of our everyday lives. These small handheld devices contain our most sensitive data and we use them to access our bank accounts, email, and social media pages. Worryingly, smartphone crime is on the rise with some countries reporting up to 80 per cent increases in thefts. Furthermore, Lookout’s Phone Theft Report revealed that 12 per cent of smartphone theft victims have had fraudulent charges made to their bank accounts. So how do current measures attempt to scale this growing issue, and what innovative solutions are set to roll out in 2022?

What is a ‘centralized’ blacklist? 

One of the current solutions to smartphone theft is IMEI blacklisting: databases of all the IMEI numbers that have been reported missing. They allow cell phone carriers to block stolen devices from being used within a country. Having said that, this solution isn’t enough to solve the underlying problem, as smartphone thefts are continuing to rise every year. 

First adopted in 2013, blacklists are databases of all the smartphones reported lost or stolen. Phones are identified through their unique International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number. When reporting a phone as lost or stolen to your cell phone carrier, they use your IMEI number to block your phone from their mobile network—this is what’s known as IMEI blacklisting. 

So what do we mean by a ‘centralized’ blacklist? All blacklists are run by centralized parties that hold IMEI numbers. The primary example of this is the GSMA central IMEI Database, which contains information from millions of GSM and 3G devices. 

Though the presence of a centralized blacklist sounds helpful, nevertheless criminals are undeterred by its presence. To put the problem into perspective, there are over 646,000 Google results for tutorials and third-party services on how to bypass the blacklist, and thousands of stolen devices are still being sold to new owners every day.

Blacklists are restricted by country and by networks leaving blind spots in the database 

Like any industry, mobile networks are in deep competition with one another and blacklisting systems, therefore, operate in silos restricted by country and network. The lack of communication between networks has left massive gaps in the integrity of IMEI blacklists; a stolen phone only has to cross an international border before it’s operational again. These discrepancies in the IMEI blacklist make it easy for the international stolen phones market to thrive.

A possible solution to this problem is to introduce a global, decentralized blacklist that isn’t restricted by country or network and would allow the individual to report phone thefts directly rather than relying on their wireless carrier to report them.

The existence of multiple blacklists causes inconsistency between wireless carriers 

The centralization and separation of IMEI blacklists operated by carriers have caused significant issues with consistency between networks, allowing stolen phones to slip through the cracks. While some wireless carriers respect certain blacklists, others don’t, which allows blacklisted phones to operate by simply switching SIM cards. With the invention of a decentralized global blacklist, wireless networks will be given a standard database to follow. This would eliminate issues of inconsistency between carriers. 

Current IMEI blacklists are proprietarily held making them difficult to access 

Because centralized IMEI blacklists are not publicly accessible, it can be difficult for law enforcement, insurance companies, and individuals to access and use blacklist data. This makes it difficult for stolen phones to be tracked down and recovered. It also takes device ownership away from smartphone users and puts all of the control in the hands of wireless carriers. Through centralized blacklists, individuals have less control over the ownership of their devices, law enforcement finds it difficult to track down stolen devices, and insurance companies find it harder to give payouts to victims of theft. 

Creating a decentralized global IMEI blacklist will transform the smartphone security industry 

Clearly, there are significant issues with the current centralized blacklists in operation. However, by introducing a decentralized global blacklist, the challenge of siloed data will fall away and device ownership will be put back into the hands of smartphone owners—not wireless carriers. It would also make IMEI information publicly accessible, giving law enforcement and insurance companies better access to database information. 

LOX Network has created an innovative new solution to smartphone theft. Our unique model bridges the users’ unique digital and physical ownership through unique NFTs, which allow owners to control the security of their devices. What’s more, the LOX Network is not restricted by silos thanks to its proprietary decentralized blacklist built on the XRP ledger. Through our decentralized blacklist, the smartphone security industry can evolve for the better. 

Discover how we can better secure your wireless devices here

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