AH Tech Talk: Is It Time To Ditch SIM Cards And Adopt A New Standard?

SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) cards have been with us for a long time now. These little chips are integral parts of our smartphones, without them we can't establish a network connection (call, SMS, data connection). SIM cards have been with us since 1991, they'll soon be 25 years old, is it time to put SIM cards to bed and upgrade? Well, let's try to figure it out, shall we.

Why should we even think about replacing SIM cards? Well, the main reason is security. SIM cards are vulnerable and a serious risk nowadays it seems. A Dutch SIM card manufacturer, Gemalto, was allegedly the victim of an NSA and GCHQ attack, reporting that the agencies stole SIM card security keys. These little chips have been around for a long time now, despite the fact they've been changing ever so slightly in size (mini SIM, micro SIM, nano SIM), they are obsolete at this point it would seem.

Mobile phones have come a long way since 1991, and it might be time to change it up. We trust our smartphones with all kinds of personal data, and the less security risk is involved in the process the better, we do financial transactions using our phones, after all. How do we replace a SIM card? Well, by typing a username (user identifier) and password directly into the device itself, same thing we do when we log into a service or something. This process would work just fine, and as soon as we're done with using our device, we can just perform a factory reset as we usually do. There are a number of password-authentication standards out there nowadays, like PAKE (Password-Authenticated Key Exchange) standard which uses a five-digit PIN in order to offer a really secure encrypted connections. This would be a perfect way for us to use our devices without SIM cards, we could get network identification via a built-in app which requires the login information and encrypts our connection. So, why are we still using SIM cards then?

Well, as you all know, network operators really love to lock devices to their respective networks, preventing you to use services from another carrier. Well, this is becoming less of an issue nowadays, and several laws have been pushed out all over the world which make unlocking your devices easier by the day (official carrier unlocking, though you can unlock it via a third-party unofficially, of course). Network lock will quietly go away in the future, or so the analysts think, so the need for SIM cards will become less pronounced, that's for sure. Ditching SIM cards and replacing the whole process with a software app and encryption (or something to that effect), would bring a level of convenience along with it. We wouldn't be forced to deal with inserting SIM cards into our devices, and then removing them when switching to an another handset. This isn't a big deal, but it's certainly not convenient by any stretch of the imagination. So, perhaps it's time to leave SIM cards behind us, and modernize the whole process, what do you think?

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