Feeds

Femtocells wilt under attack

Tiny, tiny, tiny root box danger

The essential guide to IT transformation

Security researchers have turned their attention to femtocells, and have discovered that gaining root on the tiny mobile base stations isn't as hard as one might hope.

Researchers working for TrustWave will present details of their successful attacks against femtocells at the ShmooCon security conference next week in Washington. They will explain that they were able to gain root access to the Linux-based devices, which could then be tampered with to track users and intercept calls.

"Cell phones are programmed to trust the cell tower. The cell phone does not possess business logic to avoid connecting to a wireless device, acting as a tower, which has experienced tampering," the company points out in its release about the work. That's true, though given that almost all femtocells are 3G devices, and the 3G standard includes network (as well as handset) authentication, the risk is more about interception of communication rather than compromising the security of the network itself.

And even that interception will be of limited value if both network and handset are using the more-advanced A5/3 encryption algorithm (as specified in the 3G standard). So unless our attacker can exploit the theoretical cracks in A5/3, our compromised femtocell is pretty much reduced to "monitor[ing] the movement of people based on their unique cell phone identification number." Even TrustWave admits that "while this is not a security implication, it is a loss of privacy."

The researchers told eWeek that after "hours of sniffing traffic, changing IP address ranges, guessing passwords and investigating hardware pinouts," they "obtained root access on these Linux-based cellular-based devices". The specifics won't be revealed until the presentation next week, but will be very dependent on the femtocell's manufacturer, as the equipment is far from standard at this point.

Man-in-the-middle attacks have been possible on mobile networks for some years, and femtocell technology makes such an attack easier and cheaper to mount. It's possible to imagine a spy planting a fake base station in the office of a rival-corporation's CEO to intercept communications, though the sudden availability of a high-strength 3G signal might give things away. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
6 Obvious Reasons Why Facebook Will Ban This Article (Thank God)
Clampdown on clickbait ... and El Reg is OK with this
So, Apple won't sell cheap kit? Prepare the iOS garden wall WRECKING BALL
It can throw the low cost race if it looks to the cloud
EE fails to apologise for HUGE T-Mobile outage that hit Brits on Friday
Customer: 'Please change your name to occasionally somewhere'
Time Warner Cable customers SQUEAL as US network goes offline
A rude awakening: North Americans greeted with outage drama
We need less U.S. in our WWW – Euro digital chief Steelie Neelie
EC moves to shift status quo at Internet Governance Forum
EE plonks 4G in UK Prime Minister's backyard
OK, his constituency. Brace yourself for EXTRA #selfies
prev story

Whitepapers

Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Advanced data protection for your virtualized environments
Find a natural fit for optimizing protection for the often resource-constrained data protection process found in virtual environments.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.