If you are in Argentina and value the security and privacy of your most sensitive personal biometric data – hold on to that SIM card you have, because the rules now say that in order to get a new one, you must submit to mandatory facial recognition.
The order to switch to requiring biometrics in order to be allowed to use a SIM card came from the National Communications Authority (Enacom), and applies to all mobile carriers.
The authorities are justifying the decision by saying it will increase security, particularly around identity theft, and hacking through methods like SIM swapping.
SIM swapping is nothing new, but what made Enacom spring to action now appears to be the fact that several high-ranking officials have recently been targeted in such attacks, including Minister of Security and Justice of Buenos Aires Marcelo D’Alessandro.
And for that reason, the entire population will now have to hand over biometric data during the verification process while obtaining a SIM card. Irrelevant is also the fact that of the hundreds of thousands of security-related complaints phone operators in Argentina receive each month, only 0.05% have to do with SIM swapping.
The hacking method involves lodging a fake complaint with the operator about a lost or stolen card that needs to be deactivated. The company then activates a blank SIM card the scammers have. In this way, they take over the transferred phone number.
The risks for the victim are clearly huge – from losing control over their social and messaging accounts, all the way to the bank account. And the current verification process used by phone operators is seen as weak.
In Argentina at least, the only solution the authorities could come up with is an aggressive one – bringing biometrics into the mix.
A number of new verification steps based on this technology will now be implemented by the companies. The details about the biometric system that will be in use are expected to be released by the end of January.
The transition will be costly and challenging from the technological point of view, the operators are warning in the meantime.