New Drivers Using Mobile Phones May Lose Licence

New Drivers Using Mobile Phones May Lose Licence
Drivers caught using a phone within two years of passing their test will have their licence revoked under new rules in England, Scotland and Wales. Penalties for using a phone at the wheel double from 1 March to six points and a £200 fine. New drivers who get six points or more must retake their practical and theory. More experienced drivers can be banned if they get 12 points in three years.

The tougher punishments come alongside a hard-hitting advertising campaign. In 2015 – the latest year for which figures are available – 22 people were killed and 99 seriously injured in accidents where a driver was using their phone.

Police forces have begun a seven day crackdown, with extra patrols and an “increased focus” on stopping people using their phones while driving.

About 3,600 drivers were handed penalties in the last co-ordinated enforcement week from 23-29 January, the Department for Transport said.

Adverts aimed at discouraging phone use have been developed by the government’s road safety group Think! and the AA Charitable Trust, and will be shown at cinemas and on billboards, radio and social media.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said: “It may seem innocent, but holding and using your phone at the wheel risks serious injury and even death to yourself and other road users. Doubling penalties will act as a strong deterrent to motorists tempted to pick up their phone while driving and will also mean repeat offenders could find themselves banned from our roads if they are caught twice.”

Calls to prevent drivers using phones intensified last year in the wake of several high-profile cases and research indicating that it was widespread.

In October, lorry driver Tomasz Kroker, who killed a mother and three children while distracted by his phone, was jailed for 10 years.

Edmund King, president of the AA, said too many drivers were addicted to their phones. “We need to break this addiction and the best way is for drivers to go cold turkey – turn off the phone and put it in the glove box.”

Chief Constable Suzette Davenport, National Police Chiefs’ Council roads policing lead, said: “We need people to understand that this is not a minor offence that they can get away with.”

EE to Improve 4G and Relocate Customer Services

EE to Improve 4G and Relocate Customer Services
Mobile phone operator EE is aiming to bring 4G to 95% of the UK landmass by 2020 as well as relocating its customer services to the UK and Ireland. In 2015, the firm was fined £1m ($1.4m) by communications watchdog Ofcom over customer service failings.

EE_4G_citiesThe network will also switch on high-speed 4G in the Shetland Islands and the Isles of Scilly this week.

Chief Executive Marc Allera told the BBC customers expected to be able to access the internet wherever they were. Currently, 4G coverage is measured as a percentage of the population rather than geographically. That means mobile networks typically focus on areas where lots of people live rather than extending geographical reach of their services.

“The Isles of Scilly have 2,000 residents but 200,000 visitors,” said Mr Allera. “Increasingly, the expectations from customers are that they can get access to the internet wherever they go.”

BT-owned EE’s ambitions for 4G go beyond the government’s target for operators, which is to provide voice and text coverage to only 90% of UK landmass by the end of 2017.

“I don’t believe as an industry we should say a beach is covered unless it has 4G coverage,” said Mr Allera.

This demand for 4G may help mobile networks tackle public opposition to infrastructure such as transmitter masts required to enable it, he added.

“The barriers we need to overcome are around how fast and easy we can get access to these sites [where the masts can be built], and also how we ensure we don’t have landlords who can charge ransom rates which make it prohibitive for us to put in a solution,” he said. “We’re working on those reforms but we can’t do this by ourselves.” EE is working with the government to tackle the issue, Mr Allera said.

Ovum analyst Matthew Howett said reforms were “vital” for the success of the strategy. “Unless the government takes a lead on ensuring fair and reasonable access and site rentals, EE’s hopes for 95% coverage will be fraught with difficulty,” he said.

EE said it also aimed to bring all its customer services operations back to the UK and Ireland from overseas by the end of 2016.

“It’s a big investment,” said Marc Allera. “People look at off-shoring as reducing costs but when you look at the added cost of unhappy customers… actually this isn’t going to be an enormous incremental cost.”

He declined to say whether customers would face price rises as a result but said that the competitiveness of the market would “ensure we focus on value for money”.

Mobile Users Win Penalty Free Switch from Ofcom

Mobile Users Win Penalty Free Switch from Ofcom
Mobile phone customers will be able to leave their contracts mid-term without paying a penalty if their provider puts up prices, the regulator has confirmed.

Ofcom said that customers must be given 30 days’ notice of any price rise in their monthly subscription – even if it is within the level of inflation. A provider must then allow a customer to exit their contract without a penalty. Mid-term price rises are allowed, but must be made clear to consumers.

There are no specific changes to the rules, but the way they were interpreted has differed among providers.

The regulator decided to offer guidance to providers to make it clear exactly how they should behave, and encourage competition. This will take effect in three months’ time and will apply to any new mobile, landline and broadband contracts, including some bundled contracts, entered into from that point in time.

“Ofcom is today making clear that consumers entering into fixed-term telecoms contracts must get a fairer deal,” said Claudio Pollack, Ofcom’s consumer group director. “We think the sector rules were operating unfairly in the provider’s favour, with consumers having little choice but to accept price increases or pay to exit their contract. “We are making it clear that any increase to the monthly subscription price should trigger a consumer’s right to leave their contract – without penalty.”

The consumer group Which? has campaigned for clarity from the regulator.

“Consumers told us price hikes on fixed contracts were unfair, and now people will be able to leave these contracts and switch to a cheaper provider without being hit by extortionate exit fees,” said Richard Lloyd, executive director at Which?.

Ernest Doku, of price comparison website Uswitch, which could benefit from consumers shopping around for deals, said: “Hopefully it will make providers think twice about increasing prices – they won’t want to lose customers two months into a 24-month contract.

“But even if this move does not stop prices going up, at least consumers will be able to vote with their feet and say no to higher bills by moving to a new deal.”

Millions of Sim Cards are Vulnerable to Hackers

Millions of Sim Cards are Vulnerable to Hackers
A flaw with mobile phones’ Sim card technology is putting millions of people at risk of being spied on and robbed, according to a leading security expert. Karsten Nohl has said he has found a way to discover some Sims’ digital keys by sending them a special text message. He warned criminals could potentially use the technique to listen in on calls or steal cash.

Industry organisation – the GSMA – said it was looking into the findings.

“Karsten’s early disclosure to the GSMA has given us an opportunity for preliminary analysis,” said a spokeswoman for the association, which represents global network operators, “We have been able to consider the implications and provide guidance to those network operators and Sim vendors that may be impacted. “It would appear that a minority of Sims produced against older standards could be vulnerable.”

Mr Nohl has posted preliminary details of the vulnerability on the website of his company, Berlin-based Security Research Labs.

Sim (subscriber identity module) cards effectively act as a security token, authenticating a user’s identity with their network operator.  They also store a limited amount of data such as text messages, contacts’ telephone numbers and details used for some applications – including a number of payment and banking services.

Africa rely on the security offered by their Sim cards

Mr Nohl said he had found a way to discover the authentication code by sending a device a text message masquerading as a communication from the user’s mobile operator. The message contained a bogus digital signature for the network.  He said most phones cut contact after recognising the signature as being a fake – but in about a quarter of cases, the handsets sent back an error message including an encrypted version of the Sim’s authentication code.

The encryption is supposed to prevent the authentication code being discovered, but Mr Nohl said that in about half of these cases it was based on a 1970s coding system called Digital Encryption Standard (DES), which was once thought secure but could now be cracked “within two minutes on a standard computer”.

Once the attacker had this information, Mr Nohl said, they could upload malware to the Sim written in the Java programming language.  He said these could be used by the hacker to send texts from the device to premium rate numbers they had set up, to discover and listen in to the target’s voicemail messages and to track their location.

In addition, he warned that combined with other techniques, it could act as a surveillance tool. “Sim cards generate all the keys you use to encrypt your calls, your SMS and your internet traffic,” Mr Nohl told the BBC. “If someone can capture the encrypted data plus have access to your Sim card, they can decrypt it.  “Operators often argue that it’s not possible to listen in on 3G or 4G calls – now with access to the Sim card, it very much is.”

Mr Nohl said that his research suggested about an eighth of all Sim cards were vulnerable to the hack attack – representing between 500 million to 750 million devices.

Although Mr Nohl would not reveal at this time in which countries DES encryption remained most common, he did say that Africa-based users had particular cause for concern. “Here in Europe we use a Sim card to make phone calls and texts, but many people in Africa also use them for mobile banking,” he said. “Someone can steal their entire bank account by copying their Sim card.  “That adds a certain urgency because you imagine fraudsters would be most interested in breaking into their Sim cards – especially when it can be done remotely.”

Mr Nohl said he expected network operators would not take long to act on his study, and should be able to provide an over-the-air download to protect subscribers against the vulnerability.

The GSMA said that it had not yet seen the full details of his research, but planned to study it to pinpoint any issues that could be fixed. It added that “there is no evidence to suggest that today’s more secure Sims, which are used to support a range of advanced services, will be affected”.

The UN’s telecoms agency – the International Telecommunications Union – said that it would now contact regulators and other government agencies worldwide to ensure they were aware of the threat.

Mr Nohl said he planned to reveal more information about the vulnerability at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas later this month. However, he said he would not publish a survey showing which phone owners were most at risk until December to give operators an opportunity to address the problem.

Vodafone Considers US Withdrawal

Vodafone Considers US Withdrawal
The Newbury-based company is in talks with its US partner over a sale of the company’s stake in Verizon Wireless. Mobile phone giant Vodafone is reported to be mulling its exit from America in one of the largest corporate transactions of all time.

The Newbury-based company has recently been in talks with its US partner, Verizon Communications, over a sale of Vodafone’s 45% stake in Verizon Wireless, which is America’s largest mobile phone operator. Options have included a merger of the two telecoms giants and the partial sale of Vodafone’s stake but the UK company is now leaning towards making a clean break from America, according to the Sunday Times.

A deal could be struck as soon as this summer and be worth as much as $135bn (£88bn), which compares with AOL’s record $164bn takeover of Time Warner in 2001. Vodafone has a market capitalisation of £90bn, which means the bulk of its value is locked up in a business where it has no day-to-day control.

The company is likely to use the proceeds from any sale on a major European deal or a return of cash to shareholders. However, chief executive Vittorio Colao is not thought to be in any hurry to quit America and may opt against selling the asset, the newspaper added.