Feeds

Femtocells wilt under attack

Tiny, tiny, tiny root box danger

Remote control for virtualized desktops

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. ®

Intelligent flash storage arrays

More from The Register

next story
Download alert: Nearly ALL top 100 Android, iOS paid apps hacked
Attack of the Clones? Yeah, but much, much scarier – report
Broadband sellers in the UK are UP TO no good, says Which?
Speedy network claims only apply to 10% of customers
Virgin Media struck dumb by NATIONWIDE packet loss balls-up
Turning it off and on again fixes glitch 12 HOURS LATER
Yahoo! blames! MONSTER! email! OUTAGE! on! CUT! CABLE! bungle!
Weekend woe for BT as telco struggles to restore service
Fujitsu CTO: We'll be 3D-printing tech execs in 15 years
Fleshy techie disses network neutrality, helmet-less motorcyclists
Facebook, working on Facebook at Work, works on Facebook. At Work
You don't want your cat or drunk pics at the office
Soz, web devs: Google snatches its Wallet off the table
Killing off web service in 3 months... but app-happy bonkers are fine
prev story

Whitepapers

Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
How to determine if cloud backup is right for your servers
Two key factors, technical feasibility and TCO economics, that backup and IT operations managers should consider when assessing cloud backup.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Internet Security Threat Report 2014
An overview and analysis of the year in global threat activity: identify, analyze, and provide commentary on emerging trends in the dynamic threat landscape.