Monday, September 8, 2008

Just a normal network upgrade for Omantel? Big Brother gets even smarter

One of the many great things I like about Oman is the sophistication and pragmatic efficiency of our Internal Security & the ROP. (In fact, I think the ROP are the most polite and truly friendly police force I have ever met in my many travels)

It's one of the reasons why, to be frank, I feel far, far safer in Oman than in London or New York (or Dubai). Myself and many of my friends already assume that all electronic and phone communications are monitored by the authorities for the purposes of assuring high risk criminal activity (such as terrorism) can be nipped in the bud. I consider myself ‘one of the good guys’ and therefore feel that such surveillance is for my own protection. It's also for that reason I am at pains to ensure my blogging is within the law of the Sultanate, and more importantly within the spirit of the law. (However, I must admit the law is so vague and ill-defined in some places that its difficult to know exactly where the line is.)

I’ve also assumed for years that the American NSA computers have been reading every single email on the planet, including mine. I'll admit that several people have said they think I’m a bit paranoid. But have you seen Enemy of the State…?!?

I guess the following may put all this into context.

New Scientist reported this month that Siemens, the German telecoms conglomerate, have developed a comprehensive surveillance system for computer guided linked eavesdropping across telephone calls, email and internet activity, bank transactions and insurance records. And also that the company had sold the system to over 90 countries and companies. And, of course, Oman does a lot of telecoms business with Siemens…

What’s perhaps more worrying is that companies and non-security professionals are starting to be able to use this stuff. I don’t mind the professionals at Internal Security having access to this stuff, but I hope it is extremely well controlled so it can’t be used by insufficiently authorised and controlled people….
Snoop software makes surveillance a cinch
09:00 23 August 2008 news service
Laura Margottini
“THIS data allows investigators to identify suspects, examine their contacts, establish relationships between conspirators and place them in a specific location at a certain time."

So said the UK Home Office last week as it announced plans to give law-enforcement agencies, local councils and other public bodies access to the details of people's text messages, emails and internet activity. The move followed its announcement in May that it was considering creating a massive central database to store all this data, as a tool to help the security services tackle crime and terrorism.

Meanwhile in the US the FISA Amendments Act, which became law in July, allows the security services to intercept anyone's international phone calls and emails without a warrant for up to seven days. Governments around the world are developing increasingly sophisticated electronic surveillance methods in a bid to identify terrorist cells or spot criminal activity.

German electronics company Siemens has gone a step further, developing a complete "surveillance in a box" system called the Intelligence Platform, designed for security services in Europe and Asia. It has already sold the system to 60 countries.

According to a document obtained by New Scientist, the system integrates tasks typically done by separate surveillance teams or machines, pooling data from sources such as telephone calls, email and internet activity, bank transactions and insurance records. It then sorts through this mountain of information using software that Siemens dubs "intelligence modules".

This software is trained on a large number of sample documents to pick out items such as names, phone numbers and places from generic text. This means it can spot names or numbers that crop up alongside anyone already of interest to the authorities, and then catalogue any documents that contain such associates.

Once a person is being monitored, pattern-recognition software first identifies their typical behaviour, such as repeated calls to certain numbers over a period of a few months. The software can then identify any deviations from the norm and flag up unusual activities, such as transactions with a foreign bank, or contact with someone who is also under surveillance, so that analysts can take a closer look.

Included within the package is a phone call "monitoring centre", developed by the joint-venture company Nokia Siemens Networks.

Nokia Siemens says 90 of the systems are already being used around the world, although it hasn't specified which countries are using it. A spokesman for the company said, "We implement stringent safeguards to prevent misuse of such systems for unauthorised purposes. In all countries where we operate we do business strictly according to the Nokia Siemens Networks standard code of conduct and UN and EU export regulations."

Samdup argues that such systems should fall under government controls that are imposed on "dual-use" goods - systems that could be used both for civil and military purposes. Security technologies usually escape these controls. For example, the EU regulation on the export and transfer of dual-use technology does not include surveillance and intelligence technologies on the list of items that must be checked and authorised before they are exported to certain countries.

Interesting then, isn’t it, that earlier this year, Omantel announced a seemingly innocuous systems upgrade deal with Nokia Siemens Networks… And if you were running security in Oman, wouldn’t you want the latest and greatest systems? And I’m sure Siemens would sell it to Oman no problemo. So, make sure you're polite on the blog comments please!
AME Info
Oman Mobile strengthens partnership with Nokia Siemens Networks
Oman: Monday, April 28 - 2008 at 12:29 PRESS RELEASE
Oman Mobile Telecommunications, the country's leading mobile operator has appointed Nokia Siemens Networks to consolidate and improve its network quality and coverage, while launching new services such as EDGE in the rural areas.

And Stefan Sieber, Country Director Oman, Nokia Siemens Networks adds: 'This project shows Nokia Siemens Networks' continued commitment to the partnership with Oman Mobile. We are providing support for the business of Oman Mobile by bringing in more efficiency into the network and allowing new revenue streams, e.g. via mobile internet in the rural areas.'

Of the two licensed mobile providers operating in the country, Oman Mobile with almost 1.6 million subscribers has the larger 60% share of the market. Nokia Siemens Networks began its association with the leading GSM Operator as early as 1996 by supplying Core, Radio, Intelligent Network and Value-Added-Services products.


  1. UD

    Of course everythings monitered. But you are in english, which not one cares for.

    And they watch more the Omanis like kickass who are may be the danger here.

  2. The system is meant to monitor those who cause chaos in the world. Freedom of speech will come in Oman one day. There will come one day when the government will realize that they can not go against the current of time. I know some people would think that there is freedom of speech in a lot of Arab countries but the problem is the line is too close, if you know what I mean!

    I do agree with Dragon. One of the dangers here is that when the non security professional get to use the system. Can the internal security monitor them? And if so won’t the non security guys be able to monitor the ones who are monitoring them. What will happen when the monitoring gets out of control? This might end up being a nightmare for all of us.

  3. Dear UD,

    Hmm, share your concern here with unauthorised use of such equipment (ie outside of the Govt domain - fully support the need to protect the public from the bad guys however).

    I sometimes wonder, with so much data traffic whether any third party can actually be bothered to read my emails (or anyone elses), least of all anyone at Omantel, who by and large seem completely oblivious of their customers.

    On the other hand, I note very efficient and consistent blocking of Skype by Omantel these days. Most unsporting....

    For sure though, the technology exists here cos I spoke a while back to someone who had just finished installing it. Not therefore a fantasy from "24" or similar.

    Excellent blogwork by the way - you, along with Angry are my must reads every day. Keep it up.


  4. Anon,

    I'd be watching Kickass too.

    I think we have more freedom of speech in Oman than people realise (and its one of the aims of my blog to try and demonstrate that). That doesn't mean freedom to liable people or be seditious, but fair comment and challenge to the effectiveness of the Government's implementation of policies is, I think, something HM expects of his people. He has consistently demonstrated that himself in his regular tours of the Sultanate and his desire to hear what the people think and are troubled by. Some of his Ministers and the powerful business people, of course, may not be so keen...

    And indeed, who watches the watchers?

    Thanks for the 'atta boy'!(Dragon's are well known to be vain and susceptable to flattery.)

    On the email monitoring, it's all done by big computers, not actual people until a computer feels the need to alert the human operator.

  5. EVERYONE can now be (... and is) watched and being listened too. Big Brother is indeed here and now. Even if your mobile is turned off they have got you tabbed, logged and recorded.

    Kickass better clean his act up soon.

    Willie D.

  6. Do you think this upgrade has anything to do with Omantel blocking a bunch of ports tonight? Most notably, the ports required for MSN Messenger to login....

  7. Willie
    Kickass better watch out if he wins a new mobile phone eh? Or at least listen carefully for the faint whistle of those triangulated GPS smart bombs...


    No. These guys are better than that. Once they got the software running it would only take microseconds.

    But its true the MSN ports are blocked right now...

    Its far more likely to be:
    a) Omantel incompetence
    b) does msn not have a VOIP function, like evil international call charge avoiding Skype?
    c) omantel incompetence. (oh, I already covered that one...)

  8. For everyones info. and drawing a line to fancyful thinking.. lol .. there are 2 things at play out here .. one if the normal mobile / fixed line network infrastructure and then second is this 'lawful interception ' technology which sits on the mobile / fixed line infrastructure.. lawful interception is so confidential that very few actually know what it comprises of. i have been working for a supplier of lawful interception tech. and a very very handful actually know what it is about.. so this thing is a highly guarded tech. and this tech is state of the art & worth millions of dollars so not for anyone to toy around with.


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