Hacker Developments: New and Emerging Threat

Hackers have been researching and attacking cellular systems for many years and have publicized vulnerabilities and developed equipment that exploits known weaknesses. Multiple types of equipment have been demonstrated in live environments to intercept cellular calls. Much of the research and equipment is available for anybody to build and use.

Both active and passive attack equipment has been developed.

A History of Hacking …

December 1999 Theoretical attack on GSM Encryption (A5/1) published (more)
August 2009 Cracking project announced using distributed computing power within hacker community (more)
December 2009 Open source base station demonstration runs private cellular network with open source software defined radio and $1,500 general-purpose radio hardware (more)
December 2009 Cellular frequency hopping cracked (more)
December 2009 Computation successfully completed resulting in a large look-up table of encryption keys, GSM ‘codebook’ published online (more)
January 2010 Theoretical attack on 3G encryption (A5/3) published (more)
January 2010 Software released that accesses keys in the GSM codebook in less than a minute for near real-time interception
March 2010 Active attack on private network demonstrated using open source base station, open source PBX and $1,500 general-purpose radio transceiver (more)
July 2010 Live intercept on major US carrier demonstrated (more)
July 2010 Software released for faster decryption of GSM (more)
December 2010 Passive attack using four $15 modified cell phones as radio transceiver (more)
December 2010 Solution developed for targeting, acquiring and decrypting individual targets (more)
April 2011 BBC films live passive interception using $15 modified phones (more)
August 2011 Interception equipment packaged in to homemade drone plane with auto-pilot and GPS to hover over target area (more)
August 2011 GPRS attacked (more)
August 2011 Reported that a full Man-in-the-Middle attack successfully launched against 4G and CDMA networks (more)
September 2011 Table available pre-loaded on 2TB disk for €80
October 2011 Passive attack software modified to intercept satellite calls derived from GSM standard (more)
February 2012 Security researchers break satellite phone encryption (more)
July 2013

White Hats hack Verizon femtocell, intercepting calls and texts (more)

August 2014 US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) established a Task Force to study the misuse of surveillance and interception systems (more)

Relevant Articles

Additional Background Articles:

Chaos Communication Congress 2011: 'Defending Mobile Phones'

Black Hat 2011: 'Aerial Cyber Apocalypse'

Chaos Computer Camp 2011: 'GPRS Intercept'

Chaos Computer Club Congress 2010: 'Wideband GSM Sniffing'

DefCon 2010: 'Practical Cell phone Spying'

Black Hat 2010: 'Attacking Phone Privacy'

Chaos Computer Club Congress 2009: 'GSM: SRSLY?'

HAR 2009: 'Cracking A5 GSM Encryption'

Equipment Resources

What immediate steps can I take to protect myself?

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Anybody who discusses confidential or sensitive information on their mobile phone should assume that they can be eavesdropped and act accordingly.

Cellcrypt provides a number of ways to help organizations and individuals better protect their mobile phone calls from being compromised, including:

  • Top Tips to quickly put into operation some easy and basic protection.
  • White Paper: Cellcrypt’s Voice Security Brief - an introduction to cell phone voice call interception and security. To download your copy please complete the short form below.
  • Cellcrypt Mobile, a downloadable application that runs on off-the-shelf cell phones such as Android, BlackBerry, iPhone and Nokia smartphones and uses government-grade security for protecting sensitive voice calls against interception.