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Free Libyana: Gadaffi networkjacker speaks!

Abushagur tells The Reg how he nabbed a network

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GSM security is based on a shared secret, a cryptographic key stored on the SIM and on the Authentication Server. For the Libyana network that's in Tripoli and for the moment beyond the interim government's reach; so to make use of the existing SIMs the network has had to switch off all encryption.

That's not as serious as it sounds - many GSM networks around the world run without encryption thanks to US restrictions on exporting secure communications equipment. Such countries suffer from a certain amount of fraud from SIM cloning, and listening in to calls becomes easier, but not as easy as plugging into the routing hub, which is what governments usually do.

Ousama Abushagur is optimistic he'll be able to get the GSMA to hand over copies of the cryptographic keys for the 725,000 active users on Free Libyana, but we're not convinced - in the long term replacement SIMs might be the only solution if security is going to be restored.

Communication is essential to restore normality to the region, as well as enabling the interim government to coordinate municipal services and relief efforts. Satellite phones were already in use, but at $2,000 a time the cost was prohibitive; and interim-government officials weren't keen to stand around in open spaces, for prolonged periods, while talking on the phone.

The next thing is to get over-the-air provisioning to work, so subscribers whose numbers weren't in the captured VLRs can connect to the network without being manually added. Free Libyana also expects to have an SMSC running within the next week, so Libyans will be able to text as well as talking to their friends for free.

And free it will remain - there's no sign of a billing system for domestic calls as yet, while international dialling requires the use of pre-paid calling cards and is restricted to numbers registered with the operator. What happens when Libya returns to being a single country is harder to say, and will rather depend on whose country it ends up being; but for close to a million people Ousama Abushagur and his team have created connections where there were none, and made a lot of ordinary people much happier. ®

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