eSIMs 101: Are eSIMs safe?
How eSIMs compare with physical SIMs on security
· 3 min read
In today's digital age, where our lives are increasingly intertwined with technology, it's crucial to ensure the safety and security of our personal information. With the advent of eSIM technology, which allows us to switch between mobile carriers without the need for physical SIM cards, there is perhaps some skepticism over what the use of eSIM means to our security and privacy.
What is an eSIM?
eSIM stands for Embedded Subscriber Identity Module. Unlike traditional SIM cards, which are physical chips that store your subscriber information, eSIM is a small chip embedded directly into your smartphone or other connected devices. It provides the same functionality as a traditional SIM card — it allows you to connect to your carrier, and also can store information such as contact details and texts (depending on your device settings).
With an eSIM, you no longer need to worry about losing or misplacing your SIM card. It's securely embedded within your device, making it more convenient and reliable. When you activate an eSIM on your device, it connects to your mobile network operator's systems wirelessly, allowing you to access their services.
Are eSIMs Safe?
With the growing concerns on privacy and internet safety, it is perhaps inevitable that some people might feel nervous about switching from physical SIMs to eSIMs. In particular, how does an eSIM match up to a physical SIM in terms of safety?
For one, the fact that eSIMs are embedded in your device makes it safer than a physical SIM — at least in the aspect of physical security. You wouldn't be able to remove the eSIM from your device like you would a physical SIM, which also means that your eSIM isn't susceptible to you accidentally losing it or physical theft (unless of course, someone got hold of your entire device).
SIM Cloning requires a hacker to obtain and replicate a physical SIM card, stealing its International Mobile Subscriber Identifier (IMSI) and the encryption key that carriers use to identify the cellular line. With a cloned SIM, the hacker will be able to take control, track, monitor, and listen to your calls or texts. With an eSIM, since they wouldn't be able to get hold of a physical SIM card, they wouldn't be able to easily clone your SIM. Configuring of eSIM profiles are mostly done by your network operators, which further increases the difficulty for hackers to clone the SIMs.
So if physically losing the SIM isn't a concern, what about SIM-swapping? SIM-swapping happens when an attacker contacts your network provider, impersonates you, and convinces them to activate a new SIM (which effectively disables your SIM). At the root of it, this is caused by identity theft and fraud, which risk doesn't get diminished nor amplified just because you are using an eSIM (instead of a SIM). Instead, the risk and likelihood of this happening largely depends on how your network operator verifies and validates the identity of its consumers.
Data Privacy and Security
Whether or not using an eSIM necessarily mean that you give up on data privacy is probably one of your biggest concerns. If we were to compare it with using a physical SIM, simply using an eSIM does not result in a larger compromise in using a physical SIM. Of course, carriers are able to track and monitor your usage with an eSIM — but they are also able to do so with a physical SIM.
The process of getting an eSIM configured for your phone as a primary line often requires you to provide some form of identity checks to your network operator, but this isn't any different from what is required if you were to get a physical SIM (subject to regulations in different countries). And if you are just getting a SIM or eSIM for your travels, the same applies — there are options where you can easily get a SIM (or eSIM) without any checks (typically data-only), and those that require you to go through some form of identity check (typically those that comes with a phone number).
TL;DR: No — an eSIM does not compromise on your data privacy any more than a physical SIM would.
Future of eSIM safety and security
Today, eSIMs are as safe as - if not safer - than physical SIMs. But as with all things electronic and digital, hackers are always on the look out to find ways to compromise the system; and operators and manufacturers have the obligation to strengthen their defences to make sure the technology (and processes around it) remain safe and secure for their consumers.