Feeds

Hacking into GSM for only $1500

Demonstrated and documented

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

A researcher at the DefCon hackers' meet has demonstrated kit for spoofing GSM base stations, allowing even those on a limited budget to intercept phone calls and text messages.

The audience attending the talk by Chris Paget were able to see their own handsets transferring to his spoofed base station, with calls receiving a recorded message explaining that the security had been compromised, Associated Press reports. The demonstration would presumably have been a lot less impressive if Las Vegas had better 3G coverage.

The basis of the attack isn't new: the attacker sets up a base station advertised as belonging to a compatible network operator and handsets locally switch to the stronger signal. In a live attack the base station then connects to the real cellar network and passes authentication tokens back and forth as though it wasn't there.

GSM communications are supposed to be encrypted between the genuine network at the handset, but in some countries strong encryption isn't allowed so the network informs the handset not to encrypt the communications. The handset is supposed to pop up a warning when this happens, but doesn't, so rogue base stations can ask the handset not to encrypt anything and then listen in.

The 2G GMS standard does not mandate mutual authentication – the handset must prove its identity to the network, but the network is not required to return the favour. That's always made 2G networks open to this kind of abuse; the only difference is that the kit to do it has got a lot cheaper over the years. 3G standards do require such authentication, so they are immune from this kind of attack.

During the demonstration, Paget pointed out that one could jam the 3G signal (at 2.1GHz), forcing handsets to drop back to 2G and open themselves to the vulnerability. That's true, but will cease to be possible (or at least will get a lot more difficult) once operators start deploying 3G technology on the 2G frequencies.

"GSM is broken - it's just plain broken," said Paget during the demonstration, though he could have added that the standard is no more broken than it was yesterday - the break just got cheaper to exploit. ®

Protecting against web application threats using SSL

More from The Register

next story
Brit telcos warn Scots that voting Yes could lead to HEFTY bills
BT and Co: Independence vote likely to mean 'increased costs'
Phones 4u slips into administration after EE cuts ties with Brit mobe retailer
More than 5,500 jobs could be axed if rescue mission fails
New 'Cosmos' browser surfs the net by TXT alone
No data plan? No WiFi? No worries ... except sluggish download speed
Radio hams can encrypt, in emergencies, says Ofcom
Consultation promises new spectrum and hints at relaxed licence conditions
Blockbuster book lays out the first 20 years of the Smartphone Wars
Symbian's David Wood bares all. Not for the faint hearted
Bonking with Apple has POUNDED mobe operators' wallets
... into submission. Weve squeals, ditches payment plans
This flashlight app requires: Your contacts list, identity, access to your camera...
Who us, dodgy? Vast majority of mobile apps fail privacy test
Apple Watch will CONQUER smartwatch world – analysts
After Applelocalypse, other wristputers will get stuck in
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.
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.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.