IT | Security

Canada's National Stolen Device Blacklist Launched

By: Absolute Team | 10/4/2013

The Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA), which represents a consortium of wireless carriers in Canada, has launched the National Stolen Device Blacklist, which has been in development for the past year.

Beginning immediately, the authorization of any GSM, HSPA, HSPA+ or LTE wireless device on any participating Canadian carrier’s network will include verification that the IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) number of the device has not been reported as lost or stolen on that network or any other participating Canadian network as of September 30, 2013. The blacklist will also include devices that have been reported as lost or stolen by US carriers connected to the GSMA IMEI Database, a global central database on stolen devices.

Canada has also released a free tool offering consumers the ability to check the IMEI number of any pre-owned device they are considering purchasing. This is the first blacklist that offers a consumer look-up feature, taking steps to help protect consumers purchasing pre-owned devices.

How to Add Your Stolen Phone to the Blacklist

If your device has been lost or stolen, contact your service provider to report the theft. It is up to the service provider to add your device to the blacklist. As always, you should always contact local police post-theft as well. Read our post-theft best practices here.

Blacklists Are Only Part of the Solution

Australia was the first country to adopt a blacklist for stolen devices, in 2003, followed by blacklists in the UK and more recently in the US. Unfortunately, mobile theft has continued to plague these countries. For example, one year after the National Stolen Phone Database was introduced in the US, mobile theft has not seen an appreciable decline.

While blacklists may deter some thieves, IMEI blacklists have many 'loopholes':

  • Devices can be easily exported to other markets (particularly countries in Latin America, EMEA and Asia Pacific) since stolen phone databases are not shared across countries (for the most part)
  • Devices can be sold to electronic recyclers, albeit for a lower amount
  • Although calls may be blocked by the carriers, all of the other features of the phone that use WiFi will still work, including voice applications such as Skype and social networking applications
  • The IMEI can be changed and the device sold for full profit. In the UK, this is illegal, but that does not stop thieves (they did steal the phone after all)
  • Blacklists requires consumers to report thefts, which they often do not do

Given the drawbacks of the IMEI blacklists, there has been pressure for mobile carriers to create a 'kill switch' that would immobilize an entire device, making it inoperable on any carrier around the world. While this offers a good final solution to protecting your device, the kill switch is not likely to eliminate the market for stolen phones, makes recovery post-kill switch unlikely, and complicates law enforcement investigations.