Disappearing data in South Africa – We investigate

MyBroadband recently conducted an investigation into reports of disappearing airtime and fraudulent subscriptions on MTN’s network.

We set up four identical devices with SIMs inserted from each mobile operator, and monitored them for any irregular behaviour.

What we found was the deduction of airtime on our MTN SIM on a daily basis due to a fraudulent subscription to an MTN WASP service.

MTN confirmed this subscription was fraudulent and that it was initiated by an attack that leveraged header enrichment and MSISDN spoofing to sign up our MTN SIM to the service.

It is unclear how widespread this problem is, but MyBroadband has received multiple reports from MTN subscribers who have noticed their airtime “disappearing”, with their problems eventually being attributed to fraudulent WASP subscriptions.

While this problem affecting airtime has been identified, we decided to also test for any irregular activity that affected data balances.

The test

To determine whether any irregular data depletion was occurring on local networks, we placed prepaid SIMs from MTN, Vodacom, Cell C, and Telkom in four Nokia 5 smartphones.

Each SIM was loaded with a set amount of data and the smartphones were all connected to the same active Wi-Fi connection for the duration of the test.

The mobile data settings on the devices were enabled, but the devices were never disconnected from Wi-Fi for the duration of the test, meaning all data traffic should have travelled through the Wi-Fi connection.

At 09:00 on 27 September, each prepaid SIM had the following data amounts:

  • Vodacom – 500MB
  • MTN – 445MB
  • Telkom – 250MB
  • Cell C – 200MB

No user actions that would have consumed airtime or data were performed during the test, and the smartphones were kept powered on and connected to a stable Wi-Fi connection for the duration of the test.

Data balances were recorded regularly, and any mobile data usage was recorded through the My Data Manager app for Android.

Your data is safe

At 09:00 on 1 October 2018, the data balances on each prepaid SIM reflected the following amounts:

  • Vodacom – 500MB
  • MTN – 445MB
  • Telkom – 250MB
  • Cell C – 200MB

As shown by the balances above, we recorded no irregular behaviour with regards to depleting data.

The My Data Manager app showed only a trace amount of mobile data usage over the period for the “OS Services” and “SmartcardService” operations—less than 0.1MB.

The data balances for the SIMs remained unaffected, showing that while MTN is encountering issues with fraudulent WASP subscriptions on its network, its solution to its previous issue with LTE data depletion is holding fast.

For now, it looks as though your mobile data remains safe across all networks.

Now read: Telkom Big Deal – 40GB+20GB LTE for R359

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Disappearing data in South Africa – We investigate