3G Protocol Flaws Allow Hackers to Affordably Track Your Every Move
October 10, 2012 4:00 PM
comment(s) - last by
Flaws can be fixed easily and affordably, say authors of paper
Anonymity, privacy -- these are things we have come to expect when it comes to our cell phones. The last thing people anticipate is for unknown -- possibly malicious -- third parties to able to quickly track our positions every time we place a phone call.
I. Exploiting the 3G Protocol to Track
But that's precisely what security researchers at the
University of Birmingham
(located in the central UK) are
preparing to show off
ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security
conference in Raleigh, N.C. next week. The demonstrated proof-of-concept attack will no doubt add to the aging
3G communication standard's security woes
The researchers simulated an attacking using affordable off-the-shelf components --
a rooted femtocell
(which broadcast 3G signals) and other affordable components.
The attackers used an off-the-shelf femtocell. [Image Source: 3G.com]
They then conducted two attacks geared at tracking the victim's position. The attacks were conducted in Europe on a number of real-world networks, across various carriers.
The researchers used a so-called "paging attack" -- a denial-of-service (DOS) type attack that involves tricking basestations or mobile devices into an always "ready" state. By sending a TMSI (Temporary Mobile Subscriber Identity) which appeared to
contain a static IMSI
(International Mobile Subscriber Identity), the attacker tricked the victim device into giving up its real IMSI.
That in turn allowed the target to be continuously tracked within a monitored region.
A second route to monitoring was also demonstrated, which used an Authentication and Key Agreement (AKA) protocol attack. The target device returns a Mac error, while the rest of the devices would respond with a different error -- a synchronization error.
The authors write, "The captured authentication request can now be replayed by the adversary each time he wants to check the presence of [a device] in a particular area. In fact, thanks to the error messages, the adversary can distinguish any mobile station from the one the authentication request was originally sent to."
The caveat here is that the attackers first had to indentify example authentication requests by calling the victim's device. But they argue that the flaw could still be abused in certain scenarios, such as if a boss wanted to track employees in a large office building.
The researchers elaborate, "[The employer] would first use the femtocell to sniff a valid authentication request. This could happen in a different area than the monitored one. Then the employer would position the device near the entrance of the building. Movements inside the building could be tracked as well by placing additional devices to cover different areas of the building. If devices with wider area coverage than a femtocell are used, the adversary should use triangulation to obtain finer position data."
II. Fixing the Flaws
So what does all of this mean?? 3G networks -- any 3G network, according to the authors -- are vulnerable to tampering which allows their users to be tracked, due to protocol weaknesses.
The IMSI paging attack flaw seems to be the more dangerous attack as it can be used to track anonymous victims.
Researchers say the flaw can easily be fixed. [Image Source: North Miami Beach FL]
Fortunately, there's a fix to both problems. The fix is to both modify the error messages, and adopt certain protocol changes. Those changes would involve introducing a so-called "unlikability" session key to weed out malicious AKA requests, and to implement IMSI paging procedure fixes to prevent the DOS trickery.
The 3G mobile industry's security watchdog,
, is investigating the proof-of-concept attacks and is considering the proposed fixes, which the authors argue would have a "low... computational and economical cost". Those fixes could (in theory) be rolled out in coming months to prevent attackers from exploiting "in the wild" the soon-to-be-published flaw.
This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled
10/11/2012 3:02:44 AM
have you ever looked at the cost of a regular contract vs. a smartphone contract?
better yet, have you ever looked at the cost of a pre-paid phone vs. the cost of a smartphone?
i'm sorry, but the reason i haven't migrated to a smartphone isn't technophobia. and concerns over privacy are relevant, but not primary. the real reason is because i've spent less for my pre-paid phone (including the cost of the phone itself)--this year--than i would have paid for 2 months of a smartphone contract.
i work in front of a computer all day..it's not like i can't google stuff when i need to. heck, even if i didn't work in front of a pc, i'd be writing stuff down (or making a voice memo) and looking it up when i got home.
i just loaded another 15 euro on my phone and it'll last me a good 2 months or so. texts are cheap.
"If they're going to pirate somebody, we want it to be us rather than somebody else." -- Microsoft Business Group President Jeff Raikes
Britain's Metropolitan Police Tracking Mobile Phones with New Surveillance System
October 31, 2011, 10:04 AM
Attocell Puts An End to International Roaming Rates
January 26, 2011, 9:00 AM
Researchers Crack 3G GSM 128-bit Encryption in Under 2 Hours
January 15, 2010, 3:13 PM
Sony's Xperia Z3 Gets Detailed in Leaked Photos
July 25, 2014, 2:30 PM
Heavy Users of Verizon’s “Unlimited” LTE Data Could Soon See Targeted Throttling
July 25, 2014, 1:52 PM
Motorola Moto X+1 Makes Appearance in Leaked Photos
July 25, 2014, 12:06 PM
Sony Finally Adds 3D Blu-ray Support to PS4
July 24, 2014, 3:44 PM
IDC: Although Apple Remains at Top of Tablet Market, Share Falls from 33% to 26.9%
July 24, 2014, 1:24 PM
Thanks in Part to Strong G3 Launch, LG Sells 14.5 Million Smartphones in Q2
July 24, 2014, 10:18 AM
Most Popular Articles
Microsoft Kills Entertainment Unit, May Shelve Flagship Lumia "McLaren"
July 18, 2014, 7:40 PM
JJ Abrams Unveils X-Wing Starfighter for New "Star Wars" Movie
July 21, 2014, 12:24 PM
Ford Details ’15 F-150’s 325hp, 2.7L EcoBoost V6; Demonstrates 732-lb Weight Loss
July 22, 2014, 6:55 PM
Comcast Memo: Harassing Customers During Retention Calls Actually IS Our Policy
July 22, 2014, 5:19 PM
Motorola Moto G Successor Reportedly Uncovered, Moto X Discounted by up to $75
July 21, 2014, 1:11 PM
Latest Blog Posts
Space Terrorism is a Looming Threat For the United States
Apr 23, 2014, 7:47 PM
Facebook Aims to Provide Internet to "Every Person in the World" with Drones, Satellites
Apr 1, 2014, 10:20 AM
Retail Mobile Sites Experience Outages in Light of Simplexity's Bankruptcy
Mar 14, 2014, 8:48 AM
Tesla vs. BMW: Who Has the Safer EV?
Feb 1, 2014, 2:56 PM
Justice Leaks Details of Next HTC One Two Flagship Phone
Dec 5, 2013, 4:04 PM
More Blog Posts
Copyright 2014 DailyTech LLC. -
Terms, Conditions & Privacy Information