Feeds

MAJOR HACK: Voda femtocells open phones up to intercept

Pass within 50m of one, they own your phone

Eight steps to building an HP BladeSystem

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.

Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable

More from The Register

next story
Auntie remains MYSTIFIED by that weekend BBC iPlayer and website outage
Still doing 'forensics' on the caching layer – Beeb digi wonk
Apple orders huge MOUNTAIN of 80 MILLION 'Air' iPhone 6s
Bigger, harder trouser bulges foretold for fanbois
Bring back error correction, say Danish 'net boffins
We don't need no steenkin' TCP/IP retransmission and the congestion it causes
GoTenna: How does this 'magic' work?
An ideal product if you believe the Earth is flat
Telstra to KILL 2G network by end of 2016
GSM now stands for Grave-Seeking-Mobile network
Seeking LTE expert to insert small cells into BT customers' places
Is this the first step to a FON-a-like 4G network?
Yorkshire cops fail to grasp principle behind BT Fon Wi-Fi network
'Prevent people that are passing by to hook up to your network', pleads plod
BlackBerry: Toss the server, mate... BES is in the CLOUD now
BlackBerry Enterprise Services takes aim at SMEs - but there's a catch
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
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 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.