A political and technological anatomy of a mobile phone crack

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Members of the German Chaos Computer Club cracked a GSM mobile phone in 1998. They cloned the phone's SIM-card, and used the fake card to make a phone call that appeared to use the authentic card.
The paper's description of the crack is based on documents and interviews. The paper employs two sets of concepts, political and technological, to go beyond the local context. The approach is akin to using structural concepts, as suggested by Klein and Kleinman (2002) in their discussion of limitations of the 'seamless web' approach of the early SCOT-approach, and to analyze (also) at a meso-level, as suggested by Misa (2009) in his discussion of multi-scale inquiries.
Politically, for at least some of the Club's members, the crack served the Club's advocacy of open standards and unrestricted, strong encryption. They publicized the crack and argued it demonstrated weaknesses of the secrecy-by-obscurity approach in GSM 2G. The power held by the Club was small compared to that of the European telecom industry, but the hackers were part of an informal alliance with university researchers and parts of industry in the 1990s crypto-controversy.
Technologically, the crack relied on the processing power of a contemporary PC, and engineering and cryptological knowledge to build a SIM card-reader and a key-search program.
Around 1999-2001, government and industry decisions were made in Europa and the US to use strong and open encryption, including in GSM 3G. Perhaps this can be characterized as temporary closure and stabilization, since recently law enforcement agencies and others have proposed to reintroduce restrictions on strong encryption.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2 Sept 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2 Sept 2017
EventAnnual Meeting of the Society for Social Studies of Science : STS (In)Sensibilities - Sheraton Hotel, Boston, United States
Duration: 30 Aug 20172 Sept 2017


ConferenceAnnual Meeting of the Society for Social Studies of Science
LocationSheraton Hotel
Country/TerritoryUnited States
OtherIf sensibility is the ability to grasp and to respond, how might we articulate the (in)sensibilities of contemporary technoscience? How, similarly, can we reflect on the extent and limits of our own sensibilities as STS scholars, teachers, and activists? The conference theme invites an open reading and exploration of how the world is made differently sense-able through multiple discourses and practices of knowledge-making, as well as that which evades the sensoria of technoscience and STS. Our aim is that the sense of ‘sense’ be read broadly, from mediating technologies of perception and apprehension to the discursive and material practices that render worlds familiar and strange, real and imagined, actual and possible, politically (in)sensitive and ethically sensible. <br/><br/>We welcome open panel and closed session proposals, individual paper submissions, and proposals for events that are innovative in their delivery, organization, range of topics, and type of public. Due to the growing number of submissions and our desire to be as inclusive as possible, each participant will be strictly limited to only one paper or media presentation and one other activity (such as session chair or discussant), for a maximum of two appearances. Participation in the Making and Doing event (see below) is not counted toward this limit.<br/>
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