16 August, 2022
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What is an IMEI Blacklist?

16 August, 2022

IMEI is short for International Mobile Equipment Identity. It’s a 15-digit identification number that’s linked to a mobile device, and it can’t be altered or changed in any way. However, it can be blacklisted.

IMEI blacklisting describes the process involved when a device’s IMEI is blocked by a service provider. This block stops individuals from accessing the carrier network and prevents any data usage on the phone.

The origin of blacklisting

IMEI blacklisting isn’t a new concept, although it could be argued that it’s outdated. With mobile phone adoption increasing rapidly since the early 2000s, smartphone crime has risen in tandem. In 2013, the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association introduced blacklisting in an attempt to counteract mobile phone theft, a solution which was  soon globally adopted. Meanwhile, as part of the iOS 7 rollout, Apple began implementing their own security software, Activation Lock, to protect iPhones from being stolen. 

Smartphones gained global adoption status in 2020, with 3.5 billion smartphone users recorded worldwide. In relation to crime, however, roughly 66,000 smartphones, with an estimated value of £27 million, are stolen every year in London alone. As global smartphone crime increases, more security measures have been adjusted and created, but IMEI blacklists remain unchanged.

Blacklists are owned by centralized parties that store IMEI numbers. The most commonly used is the GSMA central IMEI Database, holding information for millions of devices. 

So, how does a device become blacklisted?

How do smartphones become blacklisted?

Using an IMEI blacklist, phone carriers and networks can block a smartphone through its IMEI number. When blocked, the phone will no longer be able to connect to the network. Although a mobile device can be blacklisted for many reasons, it’s a process most often applied to those that have been reported as either lost or stolen, or due to a payment default.

If the blacklisted device is used to make a call, law enforcement will be notified and the device can be tracked. Should the phone remain within its country of origin, it may be retrieved and returned to the rightful owner. 

Now that you know what blacklisting is, let’s talk about the problems that come with it.

Problems with blacklisting

Blacklisting is one of the main solutions for retrieving smartphones. In essence, it helps locate missing phones if and when they are used in their registered country. However, it doesn’t help prevent smartphone crime and can cause further problems.

Inconvenient for phone owners

Sometimes people buy second-hand or refurbished phones that are blacklisted without prior knowledge. It’s impossible to tell if a phone is blacklisted until after it’s been set it up and your SIM card inserted.

Although a request to remove the blacklist can be made by contacting the provider, there’s no guarantee this will be approved. Should a phone be purchased which turns out to be stolen, the device will be recovered by law enforcement agencies and returned to the rightful owner. 

The device is still useable

An IMEI blacklist doesn’t prevent the mobile device from working. It just stops the user from accessing a network service provider. As the device itself is blocked, it’s not as simple as switching SIM cards. Once one carrier has blocked a device, it will be blocked from accessing any network. 

However, even if a stolen device is accessed, it can still use a WiFi connection, despite being blacklisted. Until a network-based call or SMS is attempted on the device, it remains undetectable and may never be returned to the person it belongs to.

Blacklist restrictions

If a phone is stolen and moved across borders outside of the network’s jurisdiction, the chance of retrieval lessens significantly. Blacklisting systems operate in silos restricted by countries and networks. These networks are highly competitive and, right now, rarely share information. 

This lack of communication creates a massive gap in the process of retrieving lost and stolen devices. Once a stolen blacklist device crosses an international border, beyond a network’s blacklist control, it can become operational again under a new, international provider. Smartphone crime is a global problem that needs an internationally recognized solution. 

There has to be a better way to protect mobile devices. Thankfully, there is and it’s incoming with LOX Network.

LOX’s decentralized solutions for global IMEI blacklist

At LOX, we see the issues surrounding IMEI blacklists and we’re working on a decentralized global blacklist solution. LOX Network is the first global decentralized blacklist, which means when a mobile device crosses a border, it can still be located and retrieved. Increased accessibility makes it easier for law enforcement to detect and recover stolen devices. 

Our upcoming smartphone app, SmartLOX, allows users to have full control over their wireless devices, enabling them to blacklist their own devices and put out bounties for retrieval. 

You can read more about the LOX mission here

Jeremy Rodgers
Content Manager

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