Feeds

Greek mobile wiretap scandal unpicked

Olympics-gate dissected

Seven Steps to Software Security

Software extensions in the Ericsson AXE switching equipment that permitted the "lawful interception" of mobile messages and calls by law enforcement agencies were apparently subverted to create the shadow accounts used the hack, the researchers discovered. The Ericsson exchange ran software modules needed to target and clone mobile phones but not the optional control interface software, which might have been used as an auditing tool to detect rogue wiretaps.

The same approach could equally be applied to monitoring fixed-line phones, so the fact that mobile devices were targeted in this case is - technically, at least - beside the point.

Skilled infiltrators - who probably had physical access to the switches' control terminals at several exchanges - used these modules to implement the eavesdropping operation. Their presence on the system was hidden from Vodafone Greece technicians. Rootkit-style software was used to run the monitoring process. It is likely that the check-sum process used when technicians perform maintenance upgrades was also subverted. The software in four mobile switching exchanges was altered to plant back-doors that enabling snoopers to perform wiretap-related tasks without leaving a trace.

The hack was achieved using 6,500 lines of code, written in the specialist PLEX language, and planted on AXE Exchanges. Much of Ericsson's software development for the AXE has been outsourced over the last 15 years to Intracom Telecom, a Greek firm based in Athens, so the esoteric skills needed to perform the hack certainly exists locally.

Ghost in the Machine

Once Vodafone discovered the eavesdropping, after referring text message delivery problems to Ericsson, it bungled its own investigation - and frustrated those of others that might follow - by erasing crucial log data and destroying visitor sign-in books at one exchange in July 2005. It also erased rogue software and accounts instead of monitoring what was taking place. The firm was fined €76m by Greek regulators last December.

The IEEE authors criticise the response of Greek law enforcement officials who, they say, failed to secure vital evidence. During the course of the investigation, police began to treat Ericsson and Vodafone as suspects rather than victims of a sophisticated hack.

The case raised questions about the security of other phone networks and the extent to which they are penetrated by intelligence agencies or other extremely well resourced and dedicated entities. Although the technical details of how the Vodafone Greece attack took place are now known, the the destruction of crucial evidence means that the motives and identities of the perpetrators might be hidden forever.

The IEEE article has more details on the hack of the century here. ®

Mobile application security vulnerability report

More from The Register

next story
Yorkshire cops fail to grasp principle behind BT Fon Wi-Fi network
'Prevent people that are passing by to hook up to your network', pleads plod
HIDDEN packet sniffer spy tech in MILLIONS of iPhones, iPads – expert
Don't panic though – Apple's backdoor is not wide open to all, guru tells us
NEW, SINISTER web tracking tech fingerprints your computer by making it draw
Have you been on YouPorn lately, perhaps? White House website?
LibreSSL RNG bug fix: What's all the forking fuss about, ask devs
Blow to bit-spitter 'tis but a flesh wound, claim team
Attackers raid SWISS BANKS with DNS and malware bombs
'Retefe' trojan uses clever spin on old attacks to grant total control of bank accounts
Manic malware Mayhem spreads through Linux, FreeBSD web servers
And how Google could cripple infection rate in a second
Mozilla fixes CRITICAL security holes in Firefox, urges v31 upgrade
Misc memory hazards 'could be exploited' - and guess what, one's a Javascript vuln
Don't look, Snowden: Security biz chases Tails with zero-day flaws alert
Exodus vows not to sell secrets of whistleblower's favorite OS
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Reducing security risks from open source software
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.