Feeds

DDoS by mobile phone: is it a goer?

SMS flurry worry

High performance access to file storage

Mobile phone networks could be swamped by text messages to phones in a denial of service attack by hackers, academics warn. A paper by Enck, Traynor, McDaniel, and La Porta of Pennsylvania State University explains that if too many text messages are sent to phones in the the same cell of a mobile network at the same time the cell's control channel might be monopolised, preventing new calls from being initiated.

The academics suggest it might be possible to deny voice service to cities the size of Washington with "little more than a cable modem" by sending hundreds of SMS messages a second from a broadband connected PC.

"Moreover, attacks targeting the entire United States are feasible with resources available to medium-sized zombie networks," the Exploiting Open Functionality in SMS-Capable Cellular Networks paper (PDF) states.

The Penn researchers suggest that reconnaissance techniques can be used to draw up a "hit list" of numbers needed to target attacks. They suggest a wealth of data on cell phone numbers and geographical location is available for harvesting on the web, though help from an insider would seem to be an easier approach.

The closest thing we have to a DDoS event on mobile phone in the UK comes on New Year's Eve. Last year 111m texts were sent between midnight on 31 December and midnight on 1 January 2004 - nearly twice the daily average for 2003 and eight per cent up on the year before. Texts took longer to get through at such times but there's only limited anecdotal evidence (based on limited tests conducted on New Year's Eve 2002/2003) that any texts are lost. US tests by Web performance monitoring outfit Keynote Systems in 2003 suggest that one in 12 (7.5 per cent) text messages, originated by email, are either tardy or lost on their way to US mobile subscribers.

Network capacity has increased since then and has moved on by leaps and bounds since the millennium when sheer weight of numbers made it virtually impossible to make calls in central London when 2000 dawned. That took 10,000s of attempted connections from an area around the river of around a square mile so the Penn researchers claim the a mere hundreds of messages a second are enough to degrade performance within a small cell are open to question.

Security experts are also doubtful about the feasibility of the attack. According to Mikko Hyppönen, chief research officer at F-Secure, hackers would find it difficult to get a list of mobile phones in a particular cell necessary to conduct an attack. But Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos, said the attack is consuming the resources it needs to succeed. Beyond a certain point, SMS messages would not go through and congestion would not get any worse, he said.

Speaking informally at the Virus Bulletin conference in Dublin last week, other security researchers said it was likely that service providers had protective measures in place to thwart this type of attack. ®

SANS - Survey on application security programs

More from The Register

next story
A black box for your SUITCASE: Now your lost luggage can phone home – quite literally
Breakfast in London, lunch in NYC, and your clothes in Peru
Broadband Secretary of SHEEP sensationally quits Cabinet
Maria Miller finally resigns over expenses row
Skype pimps pro-level broadcast service
Playing Cat and Mouse with the media
EE dismisses DATA-BURNING glitch with Orange Mail app
Bug quietly slurps PAYG credit - yet EE denies it exists
Like Google, Comcast might roll its own mobile voice network
Says anything's possible if regulators approve merger with Time Warner
Turnbull leaves Australia's broadband blackspots in the dark
New Statement of Expectations to NBN Co offers get-out clauses for blackspot builds
Facebook claims 100 MEEELLION active users in India
Who needs China when you've got the next billion in your sights?
Facebook splats in-app chat, whacks brats into crack yakety-yak app
Jibber-jabbering addicts turfed out just as Zuck warned
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a defence for mobile apps
In this whitepaper learn the various considerations for defending mobile applications; from the mobile application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies needed to properly assess mobile applications risk.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.