For the past several months, T-Mobile has been quietly toughening up security on its mobile networks to prevent local and federal law enforcement agencies from eavesdropping without proper clearance.
According to a report from the Washington Post earlier this week, the carrier (which just posted record growth in their Q3 financials) has been working diligently to move their network off the nearly three decade old A5/1 encryption standard to the stronger, more complex A5/3, which makes it more difficult for standard signal sniffers to pluck calls, texts, and picture messages out of the air off the towers between each phone.
T-Mobile, which currently ranks as the fourth-largest wireless carrier in the United States, declined to describe the extent of its network upgrades, instead shooting for a more vague statement that doesn’t implicate themselves or their partners in anything else but ‘keeping up with the standards of the times’.
“T-Mobile is continuously implementing advanced security technologies in accordance with worldwide recognized and trusted standards.”
Unlike AT&T and Verizon, T-Mobile has been a vocal and staunch opponent to the tactics the NSA and FBI has utilized to spy on American citizens, including the hundreds of devices that were commissioned and invented for the sole purpose of stealing data they were never legally entitled to in the first place.
The company has shown themselves willing and ready to spend however many millions it takes to protect their customers data, sacrificing potential profits just to be sure that whatever information is transmitted over their network is as secure and safe as they can possibly make it, at least until TAO develops a whole new bounty of tricks for the NSA to use to tap in wherever they’re not welcome.
The move to a stronger standard hasn’t been an easy one for T-Mobile, who is reportedly having issues getting the encryption to work in large markets like New York City and San Francisco. While these cities are inherently more immune to their residents being spied on (their sheer density makes filtering the data from each tower exponentially more difficult for every person connected), the benefit of this limitation is a double-edged sword that also prevents carriers from being able to handle all that traffic on a system that’s still somewhat new to the engineers who are tasked with its implementation.
The Post had originally reported a story back in December of last year that detailed the exact methods that the NSA had been using to decode the content of texts sent over the older A5/1 standard, which caused a wave of backlash in T-Mobile’s (known locally as Deustche Telekom) home country Germany.
Since then, the company has been working diligently to create a network free of concern from the prying Five Eyes governments, and while the challenges (and costs) may be significant, they also realize that the trust of their customers is paramount to any pressure they may face from a couple government agencies gone rogue.
According to Cisco, an estimated 13 percent of all calls in the US were connected over 2G, a figure that’s expected to fall to just shy of eight percent by 2018.