Saudi Arabia’s government announced it reached a deal with Research In Motion (RIMM) that will allow the Canadian maker of BlackBerry smartphones to continue operating its service there. Under the agreement, RIM will put a server in the nation that will allow the government to monitor messages to and from Blackberries. All of RIM’s servers have been in Canada until now so the company could guarantee confidentiality for its customers though the encryption process on those servers.
According to several news sources, similar deals will probably be sought by other countries that have voiced concerns about the Blackberry encryption procedures. First among these is the United Arab Emirates, which threatened to shut down RIM’s services there on Oct. 11. India and Indonesia have also said they’re concerned about the RIM confidentiality system and their inability to track information that they claim may not be in the best interests of their governments.
LAS VEGAS — A security researcher created a cell phone base station that tricks cell phones into routing their outbound calls through his device, allowing someone to intercept even encrypted calls in the clear.
The device tricks the phones into disabling encryption and records call details and content before they’re routed on their proper way through voice-over-IP.
The low-cost, home-brewed device, developed by researcher Chris Paget, mimics more expensive devices already used by intelligence and law enforcement agencies – called IMSI catchers – that can capture phone ID data and content. The devices essentially spoof a legitimate GSM tower and entice cell phones to send them data by emitting a signal that’s stronger than legitimate towers in the area.
“If you have the ability to deliver a reasonably strong signal, then those around are owned,” Paget said.
Paget’s system costs only about $1,500, as opposed to several hundreds of thousands for professional products. Most of the price is for the laptop he used to operate the system.
Doing this kind of interception “used to be a million dollars, now you can do it with a thousand times less cost,” Paget said during a press conference after his attack. “If it’s $1,500, it’s just beyond the range that people can start buying them for themselves and listening in on their neighbors.”
Paget’s device captures only 2G GSM calls, making AT&T and T-Mobile calls, which use GSM, vulnerable to interception. Paget’s aim was to highlight vulnerabilities in the GSM standard that allows a rogue station to capture calls. GSM is a second-generation technology that is not as secure as 3G technology.
Encrypted calls are not protected from interception because the rogue tower can simply turn it off. Although the GSM specifications say that a phone should pop up a warning when it connects to a station that does not have encryption, SIM cards disable that setting so that alerts are not displayed.
“Even though the GSM spec requires it, this is a deliberate choice on the cell phone makers,” Paget said.
The system captures only outbound calls. Inbound calls would go directly to voicemail during the period that someone’s phone is connected to Paget’s tower.
The device could be used by corporate spies, criminals, or private investigators to intercept private calls of targets.
“Any information that goes across a cell phone you can now intercept,” he said, except data. Professional grade IMSI catchers do capture data transfers, but Paget’s system doesn’t currently do this.
His setup included two RF directional antennas about three feet long to amplify his signal in the large conference room, a laptop and open source software. The system emitted only 25 milliwatts, “a hundred times less than your average cell phone,” he said.
Paget received a call from FCC officials on Friday who raised a list of possible regulations his demonstration might violate. To get around legal concerns, he broadcast on a GSM spectrum for HAM radios, 900Mhz, which is the same frequency used by GSM phones and towers in Europe, thus avoiding possible violations of U.S. regulations.
Just turning on the antennas caused two dozen phones in the room to connect to Paget’s tower. He then set it to spoof an AT&T tower to capture calls from customers of that carrier.
“As far as your cell phones are concerned, I am now indistinguishable from AT&T,” he said. “Every AT&T cell phone in the room will gradually start handing over to my network.”
During the demonstration, only about 30 phones were actually connecting to his tower. Paget says it can take time for phones to find the signal and hand off to the tower, but there are methods for speeding up that process.
To address privacy concerns, he set up the system to deliver a recorded message to anyone who tried to make a call from the room while connected to his tower. The message disclosed that their calls were being recorded. All of the data Paget recorded was saved to a USB stick, which he destroyed after the talk.
Customers of carriers that use GSM could try to protect their calls from being intercepted in this manner by switching their phones to 3G mode if it’s an option.
But Paget said he could also capture phones using 3G by sending out jamming noise to block 3G. Phones would then switch to 2G and hook up with his rogue tower. Paget had his jammer and an amplifier on stage but declined to turn them on saying they would “probably knock out all Las Vegas cell phone systems.”
Photo: Dave Bullock
3) Mobile bugs
Unleash the Kraken! That’s just what GSM security researchers are going to do at Black Hat this year, in what could ultimately become a major headache for U.S. and European mobile network operators. Kraken is open-source GSM cracking softwarethat’s just been completed. Combined with some highly optimized rainbow tables (lists of codes that help speed up the encryption-breaking process), it gives hackers a way to decrypt GSM calls and messages.
What Kraken doesn’t do is pull the calls out of the air. But there is another GSM-sniffing project — called AirProbe — that’s looking to make that a reality. The researchers working on these tools say that they want to show regular users what spies and security geeks have known for a long time: that the A5/1 encryption algorithm used by carriers such as T-Mobile and AT&T is weak, and can be easily broken.
But why break GSM encryption when you can simply trick phones into connecting with a fake basestation and then drop encryption? That’s just what Chris Paget plans to demo in Las Vegas this week, where he says he’ll invite conference attendees to have their calls intercepted. Should be a fun demo, if it’s legal. Paget thinks it is. He has also developed what he calls the “world record” for reading RFID tags at a distance — hundreds of meters — which he’ll be discussing at a Black Hat talk.
Another researcher, known only as The Grugq, will talk about building malicious GSM network base stations and components on mobile devices. “Trust us, you’ll *want* to turn off your phone for the duration of this talk,” the talk’s description reads.
And on a week that was kicked off with Citibank’s admission that it had messed up security on its iPhone app, another talk to watch will be Lookout Security’s “App Atttack,” which will shed light on insecurities in mobile applications.
In an incident that highlights the growing security challenges around wireless apps, Citi said its iPhone app accidentally saved information—including account numbers, bill payments and security access codes—in a hidden file on users’ iPhones. The information may also have been saved to a user’s computer if it had been synched with an iPhone.
The issue affected the approximately 117,600 customers who had registered the iPhone app with Citi since its launch in March 2009, a person familiar with the matter said. The bank doesn’t believe any personal data was exposed by the flaw.
“We have no reason to believe that our customers’ personal information has been accessed or used inappropriately by anyone,” Citi said. Apple acknowledged the issue and encouraged users to download the updated app.
“It’s really interesting to watch a phone number turn into a person’s life,” security researcher Nick DePetrillo told the Los Angeles Times in a report published yesterday. According to Petrillo and fellow expert Don Bailey, the mere digits of your cell phone number can betray your name, your travel itinerary, and your work and home address; it can also allow others to listen in on your voice messages and personal phone calls.
Using “widely available information and existing techniques,” DePetrillo and Bailey reportedly were able to construct detailed files on a cellphone user. Find out how after the break.
As “white hat hackers,” meaning the good guys that hack you to expose security gaps and then figure ways to patch them, DePetrillo and Bailey have learned that by using special software to spoof a call from the target number, tricking the cell phone company into thinking the call is coming from the target’s cell phone: The Caller ID system then identifies the victim’s name for you. As the LA Times points out, a hacker could create their own phonebook of numbers and corresponding identities.
From there, the hacker can then query the cellphone network to discover the location of the phone. Websites such as InstaMapper are openly accessible and free to use. With this, one can hypothetically track and generate a general schedule of your movements.
Moreover, there is always the possibility of malicious applications, which appear to do one thing but in reality can collect private information. For example, security expert Tyler Shields created an application called “TXSBBSPY,” which when installed on a Blackberry, could read text messages, listen to voice mail, and even turn on the phone’s mic at will.
Today, smartphones including the iPhone, Blackberry, and Android devices comprise about 21% of the cell phone market, and often contain sensitive information like other phone numbers, e-mails, and banking information. Nielsen Co. estimates the smartphone to become the new standard by 2011. However, as the smartphone is a recent development, Shields says that we are only living in the “late ’90s” when it comes to mobile security.
The obvious solutions, of course, are to 1) keep your cell phone number private; 2) shield your number with services like Google Voice; 3) use common sense – don’t access suspicious software and links.
Easy interception. Cell phone communications are sent through the air like communications from a walkie-talkie, and encryption is usually inadequate or absent. Although there are substantial legal protections for the privacy of cell phone calls, it’s technologically straightforward to intercept cell phone calls on many cell networks without the cooperation of the carrier, and the technology to do this is only getting cheaper. Such interception without legal process could be a serious violation of privacy laws, but would be immensely difficult to detect. U.S. and foreign intelligence agencies have the technical capacity to intercept unencrypted and weakly encrypted cell phone calls on a routine basis.
Para el jefe de gobierno italiano “a pesar de lo que afirma la Asociación Nacional de Magistrados, puede que haya en Italia 10 millones de personas espiadas, una cifra sin igual en el resto del mundo”.
“El problema es grave: nos espían a todos”, agregó Berlusconi afirmando que 150.000 teléfonos están bajo escucha y que si cada uno tiene 50 interlocutores llegamos a 7,5 millones de italianos bajo vigilancia y fácilmente a 10 millones.
En Estados Unidos “con una población seis veces mayor, las escuchas no llegan a las 20.000 personas” y en Francia, Alemania y Gran Bretaña “no llegamos ni a la mitad” de la cantidad de escuchas que hay en Italia, estimó.
Berlusconi se quejó de un “abuso sistemático de las escuchas telefónicas y de su publicación en los periódicos e incluso en la televisión”.