The pair reportedly discovered it after setting up their own private GSM network, which allowed them to send malicious text messages to a variety of basic cell phones. The most serious vulnerability, the so-called 'SMS of Death,' affected several popular models from Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Samsung, LG and Motorola. The impact, however, varied from brand to brand.
In some cases, the malicious texts caused the phones to shut down, and disconnect from their networks. In the worst case, the payload-equipped SMS could force the phone to shut down and disconnect, without even registering the original message. Under these circumstances, the hacker could even force the network to send the message again, once the system re-boots, thereby trapping the phone in a vicious shutdown cycle. Mulliner and Golde emphasized that these vulnerabilities likely exist in many other mobile models, but that their work has been focused exclusively on the most popular.
That's a nasty attack by itself, and could be even worse if such a denial-of-service attack were launched simultaneously with some other event or attack.
It's been a nasty week for mobile phone security, and many predict 2011 will prove to be an ugly year for keeping smartphones and mobile gadgets secure.
Earlier today Alison Diana reported on a new Trojan that is targeting Android phones. The Trojan, dubbed Geinimi, has both botnet characteristics and can lift a significant amount of data from the device. Diana's story is worth a read.
For my security and technology observations throughout the day, find me on Twitter.