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

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

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. ®

Remote control for virtualized desktops

More from The Register

next story
Knock Knock tool makes a joke of Mac AV
Yes, we know Macs 'don't get viruses', but when they do this code'll spot 'em
Shellshock over SMTP attacks mean you can now ignore your email
'But boss, the Internet Storm Centre says it's dangerous for me to reply to you'
Why weasel words might not work for Whisper
CEO suspends editor but privacy questions remain
Feds seek potential 'second Snowden' gov doc leaker – report
Hang on, Ed wasn't here when we compiled THIS document
DEATH by PowerPoint: Microsoft warns of 0-day attack hidden in slides
Might put out patch in update, might chuck it out sooner
China is ALREADY spying on Apple iCloud users, claims watchdog
Attack harvests users' info at iPhone 6 launch
NOT OK GOOGLE: Android images can conceal code
It's been fixed, but hordes won't have applied the upgrade
prev story

Whitepapers

Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
Getting ahead of the compliance curve
Learn about new services that make it easy to discover and manage certificates across the enterprise and how to get ahead of the compliance curve.