Feeds

Femtocells wilt under attack

Tiny, tiny, tiny root box danger

Boost IT visibility and business value

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
UK fuzz want PINCODES on ALL mobile phones
Met Police calls for mandatory passwords on all new mobes
Three floats Jolla in Hong Kong: Says Sailfish is '3rd option'
Network throws hat into ring with Linux-powered handsets
Netflix swallows yet another bitter pill, inks peering deal with TWC
Net neutrality crusader once again pays up for priority access
Fifteen zero days found in hacker router comp romp
Four routers rooted in SOHOpelessly Broken challenge
EE: STILL Blighty's best mobe network, says 'Frappucino' Moore
Fresh round of network stats fisticuffs possibly on the cards here
New Sprint CEO says he will lower axe on staff – but prices come first
'Very disruptive' new rates to be revealed next week
US TV stations bowl sueball directly at FCC's spectrum mega-sale
Broadcasters upset about coverage and cost as they shift up and down the dials
Tech city types developing 'Google Glass for the blind' app
An app and service where other people 'see' for you
Canadian ISP Shaw falls over with 'routing' sickness
How sure are you of cloud computing now?
UK mobile coverage is BETTER than EVER, networks tell Ofcom
Regulator swallows this line and parrots it back out at us. What are they playing at?
prev story

Whitepapers

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.
Top 10 endpoint backup mistakes
Avoid the ten endpoint backup mistakes to ensure that your critical corporate data is protected and end user productivity is improved.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.