Feeds

MAJOR HACK: Voda femtocells open phones up to intercept

Pass within 50m of one, they own your phone

The essential guide to IT transformation

Updated Security researchers claim to have uncovered a serious security hole in Vodafone's mobile network.

Security shortcomings in the femtocell technology supplied by the mobile phone giant create a means to extract information that would allow hackers to intercept calls or impersonate users that connect through a compromised device, The Hacker's Choice (THC) claims.

Femtocells are home routers that use broadband connections to improve mobile coverage, allowing calls to be made indoors more easily. Vodafone's Sure Signal Femto equipment is marketed to consumers and small businesses and costs around £160.

THC claims to have reverse-engineered the Sagem-manufactured kit and discovered a way for any subscriber to use a femtocell. A second vulnerability creates a means for hackers to grab secret subscriber information from Vodafone (specifically IMSI - international mobile subscriber identity - data from Home Location Register and authentication systems). Because of this second security shortcoming, it's possible to turned a hacked femtocell into an interception device, the researchers claim.

The grey hats claim that the approach can be used to compromise Vodafone UK accounts in order to either intercept or make calls at the expense of victims. Access to a victim's voicemail would also be possible. All these hacks would only work once a victim had been tricked into using a compromised base station, something that can happen automatically, but only over a short distance of around 50m, within range of the device.

The root cause of the problem is that the allegedly insecure base station kit is assigned functions normally restricted to carriers' core network authentication systems.

"The femtocell contains a Mini-RNC/Node-B, which is not a real RNC [Radio Network Controller] nor a Node-B. It's something in-between," the security researchers explain. "The mini-RNC can request real encryption keys and authentication vectors for any Vodafone UK customer from the Vodafone core network (like a real RNC). The Vodafone core network still authenticates every single phone (like a Node-B)."

Technical details of the hack are listed in a blog post by THC here.

Another separate group of researchers plans to give a talk on femtocell hacks at the upcoming Black Hat conference in Las Vegas later this month.

We asked Vodafone to comment on the research, but have yet to hear back from the mobile phone giant. We'll update this story as and when we hear more. ®

Updated to add

We finally heard back from Vodafone to the effect that the vuln in question is an old one and was patched in 2010. By then the story was all over the place, so we thought it was worth another headline.

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
BT customers face broadband and landline price hikes
Poor punters won't be affected, telecoms giant claims
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.