Our mobile phones have changed a lot in the last few years. Of course, their size and functionality are the most visible changes, however look deeper and you find that they are an integral part of a transformation of everyday life and how we identify ourselves.

To say that most of us are addicted to our phones is like saying that we think oxygen is a convenient substance to have around.  Most of us would struggle through a day without our phones.  We have them on us all the time, we don’t share them with others and we even sleep with them nearby.  According to an IDC study conducted for Facebook, a whopping 79% of us reach for our phones within 15 minutes of waking!

A good way to gauge your dependence is to measure the amount of panic you feel when you think that you have lost it.

In the 40 years since the mobile phone first appeared, its influence on our lives has grown considerably more than the size of the phones have reduced.  The mobile phone has really come a long way from just making calls.  It’s now the centre of, and protector of most people’s digital lives.

Mobile phones have created digital identities

Martin Cooper, the creator of the mobile phone, once made the remark “You used to call a place, and now you call a person.  This is generally true. Except when calling a switchboard, when you call a number these days, you assume that one specific person will answer it, and no one else.  A mobile phone number is exclusive to that person anywhere in the world.  Since we all have to go through a similar process, that still varies from person to person, to get a mobile phone contract, our phone number is reflective of our status and personality online.  Your phone number is your Mobile Identity.

Large websites know that by asking for a mobile number during site registration, they have the ability to minimize fraud.  Authenticating a new sign-up’s mobile number either by sending a voice or text verification code causes enough friction to limit fraudsters and protect a trustworthy user.

As soon as a valid phone number is linked with an account, phone-based two-factor authentication can be to verify users every time they log in from a different device or change a password.  This actually this happens whenever users perform any action that requires authentication.  This protection is great, because even if a fraudster manages to get a hold of your unique username and password, they would actually have to steal your phone to access your accounts.

Digit crunching

Mobile Identity is a lot more than just a phone number – there’s actually a lot of metadata  related to it.  The mobile number provides valuable details regarding the mobile operator including information about:

  1. Whether the number is linked to a prepaid or contracted account.
  2. What type of mobile phone you are using
  3. Whether the registered phone number is a mobile, landline or VoIP number.

VoIP and prepaid numbers can pose potential risks, particularly in countries where SIM cards are readily available and cheap.  Your unique phone number can also reveal contact details, your subscription status, whether the phone is available, whether roaming is activated, and the physical location of the phone and, most likely, you.

There is something of even greater value in the data stored and connected to your phone number.  Based on the patterns of activity, browsing history, and other information, a “reputation score” can be developed.  This also allows companies to perform risk assessments and recommendations to “allow, flag, or block” you from registering new accounts or completing online transactions.  This is why you need to safeguard your data and ensure that you maintain good standing with the phone companies.

What your number is worth

A great way to determine the worth of something is to research its value on the black market.  Fraud is game based on numbers; the more phone numbers and accounts that fraudsters can get in bulk the more spam they can send.  A couple years ago, the price for 1000 unverified mobile accounts was about $10. This has increased 40-fold since, primarily because  web-based service providers started demanding valid mobile numbers during account registration.

Since many of the internet titans started requiring valid phone numbers upon site registration, the practice has become more common.  This is good news as there is no simpler way to protect users online.