Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Perimeter

Researchers Prepare Practical Demonstration Of GSM Encryption Cracking Technology

GSM calls can be intercepted and decoded using low-cost hardware and open-source software, researchers say

Two security researchers on Wednesday will demonstrate methods for intercepting and decoding calls and data transmitted over the popular GSM mobile network technology.

Security researchers Karsten Nohl and Chris Paget presented their findings in a presentation (WMV video) Monday at the 26th Chaos Communication Congress (CCC) in Berlin. A practical demonstration of the vulnerabilities and potential exploits is scheduled to take place at the conference on Wednesday at 12:00 GMT.

The demonstration is a follow-up to a presentation the two researchers made in August at the Hacking At Random conference, during which they outlined serious flaws in the GSM encryption scheme.

GSM is used in approximately 80 percent of the world's mobile communications systems, and in about 3 billion cell phones across the globe, according to industry estimates. In his CCC presentation yesterday, Nohl pointed out that much data has already been published about GSM's vulnerabilities, but the pair's new research takes it one step further -- by showing how GSM calls can be intercepted and decoded using relatively low-cost hardware and open-source software that is readily available on the Web.

"We just wanted to move all of this into the open domain so you can try it at home," Nohl joked.

Using about $1,500 worth of USRP hardware and open-source software called OpenBTS, the pair on Wednesday will demonstrate how a hacker can create a GSM base station that would be powerful enough to intercept mobile phone calls and sophisticated enough to break through the A5/1 encryption algorithm that is currently used in most GSM cell phones.

Some GSM operators had hoped to improve system security through the use of a new algorithm, A5/3, which is part of most of the emerging 3G services. "Even A5/3 -- the better algorithm -- does not increase GSM's security significantly until the security scheme is overhauled more thoroughly," Nohl said.

In the past, some GSM service operators and other experts had stated the hardware and software requirements required for GSM eavesdropping would be too expensive and sophisticated for the average hacker to deploy. In their presentation, Nohl and Paget debunked that argument, outlining methods for using publicly available data, open-source software, and low-cost hardware to develop a hack in a relatively short period of time.

"GSM has been considered insecure for some years -- however, it is a huge development that the theoretical attack on the GSM encryption cipher is now a reality," says Stuart Quick, operations manager at Henderson Risk Ltd., a London-based security and risk management services firm. "There is now a very real and imminent threat that GSM voice communications will be compromised, and users must start to consider how they can increase the security of their valuable/commercially sensitive calls they make."

The demonstration could also cause some companies to consider separate encryption of cell phone calls, according to one vendor that offers such technology. "Our research shows that 79 percent of organizations discuss confidential or sensitive information at least weekly on mobile phones," says Simon Bransfield-Garth, CEO Cellcrypt Ltd. "The news that GSM has been cracked will be very worrying for anybody who discusses valuable or confidential information over their mobile phone."

Organizations should assume that within six months of the demo GSM phone calls will be at risk, says Stan Schatt, vice president and practice director for healthcare and security at ABI Research.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message. Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Why Cyber-Risk Is a C-Suite Issue
Marc Wilczek, Digital Strategist & CIO Advisor,  11/12/2019
DevSecOps: The Answer to the Cloud Security Skills Gap
Lamont Orange, Chief Information Security Officer at Netskope,  11/15/2019
Attackers' Costs Increasing as Businesses Focus on Security
Robert Lemos, Contributing Writer,  11/15/2019
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Current Issue
Navigating the Deluge of Security Data
In this Tech Digest, Dark Reading shares the experiences of some top security practitioners as they navigate volumes of security data. We examine some examples of how enterprises can cull this data to find the clues they need.
Flash Poll
Rethinking Enterprise Data Defense
Rethinking Enterprise Data Defense
Frustrated with recurring intrusions and breaches, cybersecurity professionals are questioning some of the industrys conventional wisdom. Heres a look at what theyre thinking about.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2019-19040
PUBLISHED: 2019-11-17
KairosDB through 1.2.2 has XSS in view.html because of showErrorMessage in js/graph.js, as demonstrated by view.html?q= with a '"sampling":{"value":"<script>' substring.
CVE-2019-19041
PUBLISHED: 2019-11-17
An issue was discovered in Xorux Lpar2RRD 6.11 and Stor2RRD 2.61, as distributed in Xorux 2.41. They do not correctly verify the integrity of an upgrade package before processing it. As a result, official upgrade packages can be modified to inject an arbitrary Bash script that will be executed by th...
CVE-2019-19012
PUBLISHED: 2019-11-17
An integer overflow in the search_in_range function in regexec.c in Oniguruma 6.x before 6.9.4_rc2 leads to an out-of-bounds read, in which the offset of this read is under the control of an attacker. (This only affects the 32-bit compiled version). Remote attackers can cause a denial-of-service or ...
CVE-2019-19022
PUBLISHED: 2019-11-17
iTerm2 through 3.3.6 has potentially insufficient documentation about the presence of search history in com.googlecode.iterm2.plist, which might allow remote attackers to obtain sensitive information, as demonstrated by searching for the NoSyncSearchHistory string in .plist files within public Git r...
CVE-2019-19035
PUBLISHED: 2019-11-17
jhead 3.03 is affected by: heap-based buffer over-read. The impact is: Denial of service. The component is: ReadJpegSections and process_SOFn in jpgfile.c. The attack vector is: Open a specially crafted JPEG file.