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
RE: There is a easy fix.
10/11/2012 7:57:36 AM
Worthless advertising peddler.
Your device more than likely does absolutely nothing to stop those signals. Unless it's a box with atleast 5" of metal on all sides, it's not going to be guaranteed to have enough isolation to keep your phone from making contact. And that's just the beginning.
I can't believe that people actually try to sell shit like this and keep a clean conscience.
RE: There is a easy fix.
10/11/2012 12:20:24 PM
Correct. Even airplane mode isn't "pure isolation", but it is close. If you really want to get down to it, take the battery out, that's your best bet.
“And I don't know why [Apple is] acting like it’s superior. I don't even get it. What are they trying to say?” -- Bill Gates on the Mac ads
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
Apple Rakes in $10.2B Profit for Fiscal Q2; Announces 7-for-1 Stock Split
April 23, 2014, 4:39 PM
The Price is Right: OnePlus One Packs Hot Spec for Only $299
April 23, 2014, 3:37 PM
Google Unveils Solar Panel Lease Plan for Homeowners
April 23, 2014, 9:56 AM
Quick Note: Apple Invites Companies to “Copy” Its Environmental Record
April 22, 2014, 7:58 AM
OnePlus One Images Leak Ahead of April 23 Launch
April 21, 2014, 5:19 PM
Nike Axes FuelBand Team, Exits Wearable Device Market
April 21, 2014, 4:58 PM
Most Popular Articles
A Bug's Life: Female Cave Bugs Have Penises, Penetrate Males for Three Days
April 17, 2014, 7:20 PM
HTC Hires Former Samsung Marketing Chief Who Developed "Galaxy" Brand
April 18, 2014, 6:00 PM
NASA Finds "Habitable Zone" Planet Sized Similar to Earth
April 18, 2014, 3:13 PM
Mounties Arrest 19-Year-Old Who Delayed Canada's Tax Filing w/ Heartbleed
April 17, 2014, 3:24 PM
Thanks to Government Crackdown, Chinese "Porn Cop" Has Watched 600K Adult Videos
April 21, 2014, 12:00 PM
Latest Blog Posts
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
Global Cyber Espionage Concerns Reveal Growing Cyber Armies
Nov 29, 2013, 11:04 AM
More Blog Posts
Copyright 2014 DailyTech LLC. -
Terms, Conditions & Privacy Information