Messages of Death Signal Comms Fragility

First they killed your iPhone with an SMS that reads

effective. Power لُلُصّبُلُلصّبُررً ॣ ॣh ॣ ॣ 冗

Then they murdered your Skype with a message just eight characters long


What will happen next? Can they make your tablet explode by saying something unkind to it? And whatever you do, never type ‘Google’ into Google, because you can break the internet.

But seriously, I welcome these news stories, and not just because I am a miserable git who rarely uses Skype and owns an Android phone (though that all helps). As communications systems become more complicated, they become more fragile. If people can decapitate phones and VoIP services by deploying a few characters, imagine what would happen if a determined enemy wanted to mess with the communications of another country, or sabotage the products of a rival business.

The deeply-engrained mentality of the IT world is to test up to a point, sell the product, then wait for other bad stuff to happen before that gets sorted out. There is nothing inherently wrong with that approach, but our world is now so dependent on communications that we cannot tolerate major interruptions without suffering a great deal of harm. For the concept of five-nines availability to continue to have meaning, the clients that connect to a network must be as resilient as the network itself. All of that means we need more testing, tighter security, and greater confidence that systems will function correctly when integrated with each other. Sometimes these concepts may be hard to explain to a skeptical public who would prefer to see their money spent on more obvious, tangible benefits. But if you keep sending a string of characters that kills their phone, they will soon get the message…

Eric Priezkalns
Eric Priezkalns
Eric is the Editor of Commsrisk. Look here for more about the history of Commsrisk and the role played by Eric.

Eric is also the Chief Executive of the Risk & Assurance Group (RAG), a global association of professionals working in risk management and business assurance for communications providers.

Previously Eric was Director of Risk Management for Qatar Telecom and he has worked with Cable & Wireless, T‑Mobile, Sky, Worldcom and other telcos. He was lead author of Revenue Assurance: Expert Opinions for Communications Providers, published by CRC Press. He is a qualified chartered accountant, with degrees in information systems, and in mathematics and philosophy.