Feeds

Femtocell flaw leaves Verizon subscribers' Wi-Fi and mobile wide open

Not just Verizon: Up to 30 carriers at risk

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Protecting against web application threats using SSL

Security researchers have demonstrated a flaw in femtocells that allows them to be used for eavesdropping on cellphone, email, and internet traffic. The hack was demonstrated on Verizon hardware, and the telco giant has issued an update to patch the vulnerability, but up to 30 other network carriers use systems with software that can be hacked in the same way.

Femtocells are used to boost Wi-Fi and mobile signals within a household, but a common form of software that many devices use has a major security flaw that allows all traffic to be recorded and analyzed. Tom Ritter and Doug DePerry from iSEC Partners demonstrated the snooping hack to Reuters using a Verizon Wireless Network Extender ahead of a lecture at the Black Hat hacking conference to be held later this month.

The researchers bought the Verizon femtocell for $250, and used open source software to test out the bugging attack. They also managed to boost the range of the femtocell to enable a much wider radius of data-slurping beyond the advertised 40 meter radius.

As many as 30 carriers could have hardware at risk, iSEC said, and the attack was simplicity itself – attack code can be pushed to vulnerable devices with no further user interaction needed. Since the firmware of femtocells is seldom updated, an attacker could eavesdrop for some time before being detected, and it's not a hard hack.

"This is not about how the NSA would attack ordinary people. This is about how ordinary people would attack ordinary people," said Ritter.

A hacked device could be placed in locales such as a restaurant frequented by high-value targets, and used to monitor data traffic that comes through the femtocell. The information can be stored and relayed back to the attacker using the adapted device, and used for further infiltration later.

Verizon's update fixes the problem (otherwise, as at past Black Hats, the lawyers would almost certainly have stopped the briefings), but users of their Wireless Network Extender have to be aware of and apply the patch to lock down their femtocells. More worrisome is that the software is used widely in a variety of hardware femtocell systems – all users of all such hardware are advised to seek out their latest firmware upgrade.

"The Verizon Wireless Network Extender remains a very secure and effective solution for our customers," said Verizon spokesman David Samberg in a statement. True – but only if those customers upgrade their firmware. ®

Reducing the cost and complexity of web vulnerability management

More from The Register

next story
Early result from Scots indyref vote? NAW, Jimmy - it's a SCAM
Anyone claiming to know before tomorrow is telling porkies
TOR users become FBI's No.1 hacking target after legal power grab
Be afeared, me hearties, these scoundrels be spying our signals
Home Depot: 56 million bank cards pwned by malware in our tills
That's about 50 per cent bigger than the Target tills mega-hack
Hackers pop Brazil newspaper to root home routers
Step One: try default passwords. Step Two: Repeat Step One until success
NORKS ban Wi-Fi and satellite internet at embassies
Crackdown on tardy diplomatic sysadmins providing accidental unfiltered internet access
UK.gov lobs another fistful of change at SME infosec nightmares
Senior Lib Dem in 'trying to be relevant' shocker. It's only taxpayers' money, after all
Critical Adobe Reader and Acrobat patches FINALLY make it out
Eight vulns healed, including XSS and DoS paths
Spies would need SUPER POWERS to tap undersea cables
Why mess with armoured 10kV cables when land-based, and legal, snoop tools are easier?
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.