How Mobile Networks Work

Credits Alix Dunn Last Updated 2017-12

This module is meant to serve as very introductory-level overview of how mobile devices function using mobile telephony networks. While certain feature-based strategies and solutions for safety and privacy will be discussed, this is largely to set the stage for then moving onward to more advanced topics of mobile security. Covered here are the fundamentals of all mobile phones and devices, for when a trainer is leading a training for participants who do not have smartphones - it does not go in depth on smartphone-specific concerns and apps.

Learning Goals for Participants

  • Learn the basics of mobile telephony and how mobile networks function.
  • Understand the implications of mobile telephony infrastructure for information and personal security.
  • Learn how to mitigate the vulnerabilities of feature phones

Important Notes

Arriving at a training to discover that the participants all use feature phones (instead of smart phones) is a surprise to try and avoid. In your pre-training interviews or survey, or in your conversations with your main contact, make sure to ask:

  • What kind of phone participants use?
  • Which operating system (if it’s a smartphone)?
  • What do they typically use their phone for, such as work communications, data collection at work, personal life, etc.?
  • Which are the apps they use on it the most.?

If you’re going to lead a training for participants who use feature phones, consider switching to a feature phone for a while to re-familiarize yourself with the experience and update yourself generally on the current vulnerabilities and concerns for feature phone users. If you have a mixed group of feature phone and smartphone users, consider how you can meet their needs without making anyone feel left out. Be aware that this may also be a very sensitive social issue (are the smartphone owners wealthier, of a different social class, or have more senior positions in an organization?)

If you choose to train on smartphone-specific elements (e.g., privacy/security apps), consider splitting the group and having a co-trainer lead a parallel training for feature phone users on a relevant high-priority topic. This could be something you haven’t been able to dive into with the group as a whole (like the hardware of a phone), a feature phone app or tool they use heavily in their work, a tailored session focused on a particular element of security that wasn’t covered for the group as a whole, or a brainstorming session on how they can use mobiles safely in a project they’re considering or working on.