Nairabet, Nigeria’s first sports betting company and one of the leading online sports betting companies in Nigeria, is soon to introduce USSD code. This was confirmed on the official Twitter handle of the company @NairaBet. According to the release, the USSD code can be dialled on any phone to open an account, place a bet, withdraw winnings and even more.
Currently, these are services that are available on internet-enabled phones and laptops and will require a visit to the website of the company. However, when fully deployed, such activities can be done even on a ‘palasa phone’, according to the statement. A “palasa phone’ is a phone that has basic functionality: making and receiving calls, and sending and receiving sms. Such phones are not internet-enabled and do not have the other complex functionalities of a smartphone.
With the introduction of the USSD code therefore, Nairabet will be able to make their services available in areas where internet facilities are still quite limited. Similarly, it will make their services available to those who cannot afford to subscribe for internet package on their phones and/or those who may not even be able to buy such a phone or computer in the first place.
Thus, it will provide both geographical (for those in locations with limited internet services) and economic (may not be able to afford internet-enabled phones and/or computers) reach.
What then is a USSD Code?
According to Wikipedia, USSD is an acronym which stands for Unstructured Supplementary Service Data. It is otherwise and oftentimes referred to as Quick Codes or Feature Codes. USSD is a communication protocol used by GSM Cellular phone network to communicate with the service providers’ computer system.
Once established, the link provided through a USSD remains open for further exchange of data or information. USSD creates real-time connection, thereby facilitating a two-way exchange of series data between between the connected mobile device and the target computer of the service providers. Thus, it is faster than SMS-based services. SMS is Short Message Service.
USSD can be used for WAP browsing, mobile money services, menu-based services, location-based content services, prepaid callback services and sundry other services. USSD is not subject to any standardisation body thus offering the flexibility for each organisation to customise its use to their specific needs.
Many banks and other financial institutions today use USSD codes. It has been touted as the best available communication technology to deliver mobile financial services to low-income customers. Besides, use of USSD codes is very easy and convenient for the user. Once the user can follow simple prompt messages, then he’s or she is good to go.
But how secure is the use of USSD codes?
Security Issues with Use of USSD
Like most other technological advancement, USSD has its own disadvantages. It can be taken advantage of by fraudsters who are always seeking new ways to penetrate their crimes. This is all the more true if the user is acreless.
For example, banks link accounts to individual phone numbers. The loss of such a sim card can provide a veritable avenue for fraudsters using various USSD codes to empty the account.
One way they can do this is to dial the USSD code to obtain the BVN of that individual and then use the BVN to transfer the money from that person’s account to that of the fraudster. Relatedly, when used on smartphones, USSD can be compromised given that a smartphone may have malware which may spy on certain information while using the USSD. This though is not unique to USSD.
Unfortunately, most people lock their phones but not their sim cards, which could have prevented the user from using the sim when inserted into a new phone or after phone restarts.
Even then locking of sim cards have its own disadvantages. For example, in case of emergency, the only option left to a rescuer to reach the family may be to insert the sim card of the victim in another phone to retrieve some phone numbers stored on the victim’s sim card. Imagine if such a sim is locked.
Therefore, the choice of locking one’s sim card to prevent fraudsters from using USSD code to empty one’s account is a decision that must be carefully weighed based on the scenario described above. That said, the chances that somehow one could be identified through other means of identification in cases of emergency should be explored before locking one’s sim card. One way is to always carry a valid means of identification.
Furthermore, in some cases, the clients themselves are careless. They may reveal BVN and PIN to third party. These ares sensitive information that USSD uses to complete financial transactions. And because the fraudster doesn’t require a visit to the bank, where otherwise he or she could be detected, USSD codes accordingly facilitate the crime in a way.
The good news is that various practical ways among others have been suggested by IT security experts to limit the vulnerability of USSD to activities of fraudsters. This include limiting the number of transactions on the account per day, setting of passwords or PIN codes while using USSD codes.
The details of the implementation of the USSD code by Nairabet is not clear yet. However, the disadvantage of using USSD codes enumerated above notwithstanding, the benefits to be gained by lovers of sports who love to bet, far outweigh the shortcomings. After all, most Nigerians use USSD codes in other areas one way or the other, and they cope very well.