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.

Vulnerabilities / Threats

Cell Phones Vulnerable To 'SMS Of Death'

A single text can shut down and knock low-end handsets -- from Nokia, LG, Samsung, Motorola, Sony Ericsson, and Micromax -- off of a cell phone network, say researchers.

Top 10 Security Stories Of 2010
(click image for larger view)
Slideshow: Top 10 Security Stories Of 2010
Low-end mobile phones can be sent an "SMS-of-Death" to shut them down, knock them off of a cellular network, or even turn them into a brick.

So said researchers in a presentation at the recent 27th Chaos Communication Congress, a computer security conference in Berlin. Feature phones from such manufacturers as Nokia, LG, Samsung, Motorola, Sony Ericsson, and Micromax are vulnerable.

In their presentation, the researchers -- Collin Mulliner and Nico Golde, respectively a PhD student and undergraduate at the Technical University of Berlin -- detailed techniques for attacking feature phones "on a large scale" via short message service (SMS). "The attacks range from interrupting phone calls, to disconnecting people from the network, and sometimes even bricking phones remotely," they said. Vulnerable phones are offered by all of the world's major carriers.

Smartphones may be all the rage these days -- typically running iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Symbian, or Windows Phone 7 operating systems -- but only about one in six of the world's mobile phones are actually smartphones.

The rest are what are known as feature phones. According to Web site Know Your Mobile, "feature phones predominantly run on a proprietary Java ME platform and can, for this reason, only run basic applications -- hence why they're called 'feature' and not 'smart' phones."

Network operators often use SMS messages to remotely update feature phones. Mulliner and Golde took a similar approach, but used it to distribute malicious binaries. They also warned that a major attack developer would need to create just a handful of SMS messages -- one for each of the world's most popular handsets. Using inexpensive, mass-mailing SMS services, attackers could quickly and easily execute the attack on a wide scale.

According to MIT's Technology Review, Mulliner said that network operators are the only organizations able to defend against these types of attacks, either by updating phone firmware to block malicious binaries, or else by intercepting malicious SMS messages -- as is now done with spam -- before they're allowed to reach handsets.

According to the Technology Review, "Mulliner and Golde say they contacted network operators and manufacturers months before their talk but were told it wasn't possible to get fixes ready in time."

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
COVID-19: Latest Security News & Commentary
Dark Reading Staff 5/22/2020
The Problem with Artificial Intelligence in Security
Dr. Leila Powell, Lead Security Data Scientist, Panaseer,  5/26/2020
How an Industry Consortium Can Reinvent Security Solution Testing
Henry Harrison, Co-founder & Chief Technology Officer, Garrison,  5/21/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Write a Caption, Win a Starbucks Card! Click Here
Latest Comment: This comment is waiting for review by our moderators.
Current Issue
How Cybersecurity Incident Response Programs Work (and Why Some Don't)
This Tech Digest takes a look at the vital role cybersecurity incident response (IR) plays in managing cyber-risk within organizations. Download the Tech Digest today to find out how well-planned IR programs can detect intrusions, contain breaches, and help an organization restore normal operations.
Flash Poll
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2020-10737
PUBLISHED: 2020-05-27
A race condition was found in the mkhomedir tool shipped with the oddjob package in versions before 0.34.5 and 0.34.6 wherein, during the home creation, mkhomedir copies the /etc/skel directory into the newly created home and changes its ownership to the home's user without properly checking the hom...
CVE-2020-13622
PUBLISHED: 2020-05-27
JerryScript 2.2.0 allows attackers to cause a denial of service (assertion failure) because a property key query for a Proxy object returns unintended data.
CVE-2020-13623
PUBLISHED: 2020-05-27
JerryScript 2.2.0 allows attackers to cause a denial of service (stack consumption) via a proxy operation.
CVE-2020-13616
PUBLISHED: 2020-05-26
The boost ASIO wrapper in net/asio.cpp in Pichi before 1.3.0 lacks TLS hostname verification.
CVE-2020-13614
PUBLISHED: 2020-05-26
An issue was discovered in ssl.c in Axel before 2.17.8. The TLS implementation lacks hostname verification.