Feeds

Satellite phones lift skirt, flash cipher secrets at boffins

Security though obscurity fails yet again

SANS - Survey on application security programs

Researchers at the Ruhr-University Bochum have managed to extract the secret encryption algorithmns used by satellite phones, and discovered that it's a lot less secure than one might hope.

Benedikt Driessen and Ralf Hund analysed firmware updates for popular satellite handsets to extract the ciphers used by the Thuraya and Inmarsat networks, which are known as GMR-1 and GMR-2 respectively. The first cipher turned out to be a variant of the already-exploited A5/2 cipher on which GSM used to depend; GMR-2 hasn't yet been attacked but the researchers reckon it wouldn't be particularly difficult to break.

Modern security systems, including SSL and modern GSM networks, use published ciphers which are open to general scrutiny, but there was a time when it was considered better to keep the method by which data is encrypted secret as an additional barrier to the attacker.

That time is now well past - it's become obvious that attackers can identify secret ciphers, and the lack of public analysis made for much weaker ciphers which were subsequently broken. GSM, for example, used secret ciphers which turned out to have exploitable weaknesses, so has now (in most places) shifted to the A5/3 cipher, which is widely published, tested and has proved resistant to assault.

But satellite systems haven't moved on as quickly, and the researchers' job was made easier by the short production run of satellite handsets. GSM cryptography is almost all done in hardware, the quantity of GSM phones makes it economical to fabricate specialist silicon for the job, but satellite phones do the same work in software so the ciphers can be found within firmware updates.

The Cryptanalysis blog has a detailed writeup of the attack - but, in summary, phones on the Thuraya and Inmarsat networks aren't as secure as they appeared to be yesterday, and anyone hoping for secure communications should be using end-to-end cryptography from Cryptophone, Cellcrypt or similar. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Obama allows NSA to exploit 0-days: report
If the spooks say they need it, they get it
Mounties always get their man: Heartbleed 'hacker', 19, CUFFED
Canadian teen accused of raiding tax computers using OpenSSL bug
Samsung Galaxy S5 fingerprint scanner hacked in just 4 DAYS
Sammy's newbie cooked slower than iPhone, also costs more to build
Snowden-inspired crypto-email service Lavaboom launches
German service pays tribute to Lavabit
One year on: diplomatic fail as Chinese APT gangs get back to work
Mandiant says past 12 months shows Beijing won't call off its hackers
Call of Duty 'fragged using OpenSSL's Heartbleed exploit'
So it begins ... or maybe not, says one analyst
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
SANS - Survey on application security programs
In this whitepaper learn about the state of application security programs and practices of 488 surveyed respondents, and discover how mature and effective these programs are.