Monday, January 30, 2023

GSM got hacked again

Did you know that calls made on a GSM network are protected by a 20-year old security algorithm known as A5/1? It means 80 per cent of the world’s phone calls is vulnerable to hacking using much modern/advanced technology available today.

The algorithm, which was first cracked sometime in 1999, is designed to prevent mobile phone calls from being intercepted by eavesdroppers. The GSM Association(GSMA) has had a stronger algorithm, called A5/3 since 2007 but not many mobile network providers have made the upgrade.

The next time when you make a call over a GSM network, note that there could be someone listening to that call. Security researchers Karsten Nohl and Sylvain Munaut demonstrated their “toolkit” at the Chaos Computer Club Congress (CCC) in Berlin. They showed off the GSM hack, from identifying a phone to stealing its data, using cheap Motorola mobile phone as low as 10 euros (about RM50) and open source software. Previously Karsten Nohl claimed that the GSM encryption could be hacked and this demonstration proves him right.

The toolkit will not be released to the public, but it’s likely that hackers will figure out the missing pieces of the puzzles for themselves. Hopefully, the mobile operator and the GSMA could do something about this.

In the mean time, if you need to make a private/highly confidential phone call to your wife/husband/girlfriend/boyfriend/boss/children/friends, use 3G as there hasn’t been any report that it has been successfully hacked.

(This is article is partly contributed by, Kaspersky Lab E-Store for SEA)

Kugan is the co-founder of MalaysianWireless. He has been observing the mobile industry since 2003. Connect with him on Twitter: @scamboy

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