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African porn dialers, civil war and networks

  • From: Eric Kuhnke
  • Date: Mon Dec 29 07:45:12 2003

Forwarded from the Risks digest (


Date: Sun, 21 Dec 2003 19:37:31 +0000
From: "Patrick O'Beirne" <[email protected]>
Subject: GuineTel seeks ways of clamping down on scam fraud

By Brian King, Balancing Act's News Update 188 (21 Dec 2003)

Phantom Calls

In 2003, Terri Lockwood of Indianapolis, Indiana received a phone bill with
hefty charges for calls to Guinea-Bissau, a West African country she had
never heard of, and much less had reason to call.  When she disputed the
charges, the American operator AT&T told her that the calls were genuine,
and that she or someone in her house must have called, or accessed an adult
entertainment site on the Internet. The intruder was a program that had
slipped unnoticed onto the family computer, and reconfigured the connection
to dial a number in Guinea-Bissau (code 245).

The number, however, does not officially exist. The national operator, the
regulatory body, and the International Telecommunications Union all agree
that the number dialed from Terri Lockwood¹s computer is not programmed
within the territory of Guinea-Bissau. Communications infrastructure of the
country, furthermore, could not conceivably support the graphic-intensive
content production and broadcast of many adult entertainment sites.  For the
last few years the national operator Guine Telecom has been concerned with
repairing basic telephony infrastructure damaged in a devastating civil war.
At the beginning of this year Guine Telecom had no new cables to repair its
network, no wires to install phones for clients, and approximately 50,000
people on waiting lists.  This is not a company receiving revenue from a
brisk adult entertainment business, legitimate or not, apparently conducted
in its name.

The History

In 1989 the Government of Guinea-Bissau cemented a strategic partnership
with Marconi (now part of the Portugal Telecom group) All international
traffic to and from Guinea-Bissau would run through Marconi in Portugal.
Marconi was also given the right to open and maintain bank accounts abroad
in the name of Guine Telecom.

Critics of the company say that management of the company became
increasingly chaotic and untransparent.  Around 1996 Portugal Telecom
managers set up a bank of computers at the earth station to receive
pornographic calls from abroad. The calls were received at Guine Telecom and
were immediately transmitted back without entering the national network.
The practice reportedly generated significant new traffic to Guinea-Bissau,
and the added revenue funded new investments in infrastructure.

On June 7, 1998 a failed coup d¹etat tipped the country into civil war; key
infrastructure (such as the earth station) was destroyed and in the midst of
it the bank of audiotext (read 'phone sex') computers.

After their departure in 1998 Portugal Telecom began withholding settlement
payments for international calls terminating in Guinea-Bissau, and has
continued to do so.

A journalist from the major Spanish newspaper El País confirmed a so-called
³epidemic² of calls to Guinea-Bissau from Spain, appearing on the bills of
people who had no relationship with the country. In all these instances the
Spanish operator Telefonica responded that the calls were genuine.

Around the same time, a dissatisfied Spanish pornography consumer actually
called Guine Telecom to complain about the service. Technical Director Malam
Fati was alerted, and so discovered for himself the existence of a number of
web pages advertising live pornographic video. The pages appear to be
designed to target particular countries; all are linked to a home page at  The pages offer 'free' access to live pornographic video
without requiring credit card information. Interested viewers need only to
call a number on the screen (dialing instructions from each country are
included), to receive a password. These access numbers bear the (245)
international code, but the regional codes are not assigned within the
territory of Guinea-Bissau.

For the rest of this story, go to:

Patrick O'Beirne, Systems Modelling Ltd., Gorey, Co. Wexford, Ireland.
+353 55 22294