A Set Of Prints May Foil Phone Thievery

ACCORDING TO TELECOMMUnications Advisors Inc., a Portland (Ore.) research firm, the cellular-telephone industry will lose about $500 million this year as a result of fraudulent calls.

Using computerized scanning gear, phone "phreaks" can get hold of individual electronic serial numbers (ESNs) and mobile identification numbers (MINs) as they are being transmitted over the air by cellular phones. Then, the thieves "clone" those numbers into another cellular phone, and voila!--all the charges on that phone are billed to the legitimate owner.

Now, Texas Instruments Inc. has come up with a security scheme that company officials say is almost impossible to crack. TI's Cellular Voice Authorization setup resides at the switching office of a cellular-phone network. It uses specialized microprocessors called digital signal processors (DSPs) and software to encode and store the voice of every cellular-phone owner, who recites his or her unique password--a so-called voice print.

When a cellular-phone owner initiates a call, the system intercepts the telephone's ESN and MIN, looks up the appropriate voice print --and rejects the call if the voice doesn't match.

Rich Birckbichler, general manager for sales and marketing at Texas Instruments Telecom Systems, says that the setup can be added into existing cellular-telephone networks. He says that Cellular Voice Authorization is being tested by a number of service providers, but he declines to name them. Birckbichler estimates that the system should be available by the end of the year.

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