Temporarily using a Nexus S in Istanbul

Some pitfalls for the unwary, before popping in a new SIM:

  • Switching SIMs will remove passwords from saved accounts and break existing sync. This is a general property of Android and perhaps someone can explain the reason for this “feature.” Conspiracy-minded critics are likely to cry “carrier-humping surrender monkeys!” again. SIM is the instrument of customer lock-in for carriers; why create one more hurdle for switching providers, even when the switch is temporary? Replacing the original SIM does not recreate the lost credentials. Granted this is not irreversible, account names are still persisted and one can retype passwords– although it can be quite frustrating to enter symbols and punctuation marks on the inane virtual keyboard. Let’s not even get started on the difficulty of obtaining access-codes for accounts set up with new 2-step verification feature. It is not clear what threat this is defending against; merely removing the SIM without replacing it does not have this effect. Only inserting a new SIM appears to trigger the behavior, so it is useless in theft scenarios where the adversary removes the SIM to prevent remote wipe instructions. Incidentally it would be a real security feature if credentials were stored on the SIM card and never exported, with an applet on the SIM responsible for authentication. After all the SIM presents the only ubiquitous secure element found in every GSM phone. Carrier lock-in effects persists but at least there is a redeeming virtue in improved protection for credentials. Unfortunately contents of the SIM are tightly controlled by carriers and uploading your own Javacard applet there for other useful functionality has been a non-starter as far as business plans go. This is a major squandered opportunity for improving authentication across the board.
  • Configure the OS to not lock the SIM card. In the US most SIM cards do not require a PIN. At least in Turkey they appear to be; all the prepaid Turkcell cards I have seen had both the regular PIN and PIN2 for restricting call numbers. This adds one more step to the phone unlock process, on top of the pattern or existing passcode. A better design would have been for the operating system to realize that there is already an existing lock mechanism for the device, and cache the PIN automatically. (That said the screen locking is easier to by pass, as it is implemented in software; even the smudge patterns left on the screen have been shown vulnerable recently. By comparison the tamper-resistant SIM enforces its own lock out mechanism against guessing attempts.)
  • Mysteriously navigation does not work. Google Maps itself works like a charm– at least for now, Turkey does have a track record of blocking/unblocking Google services at seemingly random intervals. Also not surprisingly, GPS is very accurate and turn-by-turn directions are correct. But the device does not switch into navigation mode, hanging on “checking if navigation is available.” Fail.


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