WhatSim becomes ChatSim as it expands to apps beyond WhatsApp

Last month, I reported on an interesting new mobile service from Italy’s Zeromobile called WhatSim that promised unlimited WhatsApp messaging anywhere in the world for just €10 ($11.60) a year. Well, a month later — and before it’s even shipped its first SIM card — WhatSim is already changing up its business model to move beyond a single messaging app, but it has also placed some restrictions on the service that make it less attractive to hard-core chatters.

It’s rebranded itself as ChatSim and it’s now supporting QQ, [company]Facebook[/company] Messenger, WeChat, Skype, Viber, Line, KakaoTalk, Telegram, Snapchat, [company]Twitter[/company], [company]Google[/company] Hangouts and [company]Apple[/company] iMessage in addition to WhatsApp. If you want to do anything besides sending text and emoticons on those services, though, you’ll have to buy credits. Each photo, video, voice message costs a different amount of credits, which vary depending on the country you’re in.

Those credits can also translate directly into prepaid megabytes, which you can use for any mobile app or to surf the internet. But be careful: Once you start buying credits, ChatSim removes the blocks on non-messaging internet traffic and a smartphone can eat up those credits (and your euros) pretty quickly.

Zeromobile also added some confusing fine print to its service that places limits on its supposedly unlimited plans. If you’re traveling the world and spreading your usage among different countries, then you won’t face any restrictions. But if more than 60 percent of your usage is in one of six geographic zones, then ChatSim will start throwing up roadblocks.

For instance, in the U.S., which is in a zone that includes 30 more countries ranging from the U.K. to New Zealand, you would be restricted to 25 MB of chat traffic before additional charges kick in. That translates into about 12,500 messages, or 34 messages a day, according to Zeromobile. That’s not a paltry number, but it’s a threshold any committed chat user can easily surpass.

So if you truly are a globetrotter living out of your suitcase, or business traveler who regularly travels between two of ChatSim’s zones, this service is a great deal (though your jetsetting ways would suggest you’re not exactly looking for a bargain). But if you’re generally staying put, then you might find ChatSim isn’t as good of a deal as was originally advertised.

Gemalto downplays impact of NSA and GCHQ hacks on its SIM cards

Dutch digital security firm Gemalto, which is the world’s biggest manufacturer of SIM cards, has reported back on internal investigations triggered by last week’s revelations about the NSA and GCHQ hacking into its systems and stealing encryption keys that are supposed to protect phone users’ communications.

On Wednesday Gemalto said it reckoned a series of intrusions into its systems in 2010 and 2011 could have matched up with the attacks described in documents leaked by Edward Snowden and published by The Intercept. However, it downplayed the impact of the attacks on its systems and SIM encryption key transfer mechanisms, hinting that the methods described in the documents were more likely to have affected its rivals.

For a start, Gemalto said these attacks, which involved the “cyberstalking” of some of its employees in order to penetrate its systems, only affected its office networks:

The SIM encryption keys and other customer data in general, are not stored on these networks. It is important to understand that our network architecture is designed like a cross between an onion and an orange; it has multiple layers and segments which help to cluster and isolate data…

It is extremely difficult to remotely attack a large number of SIM cards on an individual basis. This fact, combined with the complex architecture of our networks explains why the intelligence services instead, chose to target the data as it was transmitted between suppliers and mobile operators as explained in the documents.

Regarding that method of targeting encryption keys in transit, Gemalto said it had put in place “highly secure exchange processes” before 2010, which explained why the documents noted how the NSA and GCHQ failed to steal the keys for certain Pakistani networks.

The company said that at the time “these data transmission methods were not universally used and certain operators and supplies had opted not to use them,” though Gemalto itself used them as standard practice, barring “exceptional circumstances.” In other words, Gemalto does it right (most of the time) while other suppliers may not have been so cautious.

Gemalto, whose stock price was whacked by last week’s revelations, also said that the attacks could only have affected 2G SIM cards, due to enhanced security measures introduced in 3G and 4G versions. “Gemalto will continue to monitor its networks and improve its processes,” it added. “We do not plan to communicate further on this matter unless a significant development occurs.”

On Tuesday, another SIM card vendor, Germany’s Giesecke & Devrient (G&D), said last week’s report had prompted it to “introduce additional measures to review the established security processes together with our customers.”

With Apple and Nokia at war, nano-SIM vote is postponed

With Apple and Nokia at each others’ throats over control over the upcoming nano-SIM standard for mobile phones, the ruling body that was set to decide between them has instead postponed its vote for at least a month.

Nokia: Pick Apple’s SIM standard, no patents for you

Nokia is escalating its objections to Apple leading the way on how future SIM cards are designed. In an official statement Wednesday, the Finnish handset maker warned that it would not license any of its own patents necessary to an Apple-designed nano-SIM card.

Facebook for SIM uses SMS; no data plan required

Hundreds of millions of handset owners worldwide without data plans have a new way to access Facebook while mobile thanks to Gemalto. The Amsterdam-based company has a SIM card that uses SMS to provide Facebook access for Personal Argentina’s 17.4 million customers; no data plan required.

Should Apple buy a carrier, or just go around them?

When it comes to the iPhone, the main element that is still out of Apple’s control is the carriers. Jean-Louis Gassee proposed Apple solve this problem by just scooping up a carrier. But patent filings indicate Apple has other plans.