Deutsche Telekom, Camelot ITLab, and SAP Use Blockchain to Fight Smartphone Theft

Deutsche Telekom, Camelot ITLab, and SAP are building a blockchain network to prevent cell phones from being stolen. SAP is also taking the technical steps necessary to implement the shared governance that makes blockchain unique by running the network on external Hyperledger Fabric nodes.

It’s perhaps most likely at a restaurant, but it can also happen at work: You leave your smartphone unattended on the table for just a moment, and when you come back, it’s gone. And it’s not just your personal information that has found its way into a stranger’s hands; the stolen device often contains business data as well, including addresses, contacts, credit card information, and passwords.

In situations like these, speed is of the essence to prevent the misuse of your data and, in the worst case, identity theft. According to a study by Lookout Mobile Security, 90 percent of the victims of smartphone theft try to recover their device, but only 32 percent succeed. They reach out to the police, their cellular service provider, or the manufacturer of their device. As a telecommunications provider, Deutsche Telekom receives many messages about stolen smartphones.

There are ways to locate a pilfered device and delete the data on it. The next step would be to block the smartphone entirely and prevent any further use by putting it on a blacklist. Based on its International Mobile Equipment Identity — IMEI, a 15-digit serial number — every mobile device in the world can be identified. You can view your smartphone’s IMEI by entering the key combination +#06#. Your device manufacturer and network operator also have a record of the number, which makes it possible to contact them in such cases and have the smartphone in question blacklisted.

Co-Innovation Designed to Protect Smartphone Users and Companies

There is one problem: The device will then be on only one blacklist among many around the world, which are typically maintained by cellular service providers. In some countries, local regulations have led to the introduction of a common blacklist for all providers, which has reduced the number of mobile devices stolen. So far, however, it has not been possible to establish a widespread, integrated solution for exchanging such information among all the stakeholders across the globe.

In its search for an innovative solution to this challenge, Deutsche Telekom has joined the SAP Blockchain Co-Innovation Program. It is now working with SAP and implementation partner Camelot Innovative Technologies Lab (Camelot ITLab) on a security network for mobile devices in which information can be shared in a trustworthy, transparent manner. The goal of this project is to create a shared IMEI blacklist with the help of blockchain technology. The idea is to enable every network operator, smartphone manufacturer, and end user to access the list in the future. When one of the partners involved blacklists the IMEI of a particular mobile device, all the other partners and members of the corresponding blockchain will receive this information in real time, making it impossible to use the device with a SIM card from another provider.

By using cryptographic algorithms and because data is shared across all participants of the blockchain network, the entries become practically unalterable. As a result, criminals are unable to manipulate entries to the blockchain. Only the involved parties are authorized to make new entries, thereby securing the trustworthiness of the IMEI data.

Along with device manufacturers and network operators, this concept should attract interest from insurance companies, public authorities, and in the future, private individuals.

“Unfortunately, smartphone theft is a lucrative business,” says Dr. Stephan Westermeyr, vice president of Order Management and Billing at Deutsche Telekom. “If we succeed in using blockchain technology to dry up this black market, we’ll not only protect smartphone users against theft, but safeguard companies’ sensitive business data for the long term as well.”

Secure Exchanges Thanks to Blockchain Technology

Only blockchain is capable of ensuring secure, transparent transfers of information in an infrastructure that no one participant can control on its own. It also makes the exchange of information more efficient by sharing data directly through a common layer. SAP offers its customers this technology in SAP Cloud Platform Blockchain.

As part of its project with Deutsche Telekom, SAP is now connecting the Hyperledger Fabric protocol, one of two blockchain technologies currently on SAP Cloud Platform, with external nodes operated by Deutsche Telekom and Camelot ITLab. In doing so, SAP is reinforcing the strategy of operating blockchain networks in a distributed fashion.

“Through these efforts, we’re implementing the shared governance that makes blockchain networks unique in technical terms, as well,” explains Benjamin Stöckhert, business developer within the SAP Innovation Center Network.

For end users, this would mean having the ability to put a smartphone on the blockchain-based blacklist as soon as they realize it’s been stolen, even if they don’t know its IMEI number. Every smartphone would also be assigned a “guardian,” such as the manufacturer or network operator in question, that its owner could contact when necessary. Smartphone IMEIs are already stored in Deutsche Telekom’s customer relationship management system, for instance; the company’s employees would then be able to add a corresponding entry to the blacklist to block a stolen smartphone.

But what if a user manages to track down his or her stolen smartphone, or realizes that it was only misplaced?

“In cases like these, it’s easy to whitelist the device again — in the same way, using the same blockchain technology,” Stöckhert reveals.

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