Friday, January 1, 2010

GSM Phone Security - Not So Secure Anymore

Happy new year to everyone! Really. I would like to think it will be better than that last one!

This has been in the press recently: Although it's not trivial to do - a snoop needs about $1000 worth of equipment to accomplish it - but the security scheme that digital cell phones use - "GSM" - has been cracked. This means if you're an AT&T (don't get me started about that company!) or T-Mobile subscriber in the US, your calls can no longer be considered to be private. (Verizon, Sprint, etc. use CDMA technology, which is totally different than GSM.)

The researcher that published the technique is being lambasted quite a bit for doing it, but I believe his intentions are noble - as is so often the case in big business, companies are loathe to do anything that costs them money and prefer to ignore Elephants In The Living Room until they're forced to do something.

Now, another blogger asserts that there's nothing to worry about, and that the phone companies will move to the stronger 128-bit encryption protocol (the current protocol is "only" 64 bit) - but it could be said that the publication of the decryption technique will at least hurry them along a bit, and even with that, who knows when this will actually be 100% deployed across the country?


While we're on the subject - the cordless landline phones I use in my home are Panasonic "DECT 6.0" phones - I got them at Costco, but DECT 6.0 phones are sold "everywhere". In theory my phones provide secured communications that can't be monitored, but I have seen mention here and there that some phone manufacturers don't enable the encryption that DECT provides. So when I order a pizza (mmmmm, Fast Pizza Delivery pizza!) over the phone and give them my credit card information, I really have no idea whether that conversation could be monitored by some crook with a sophisticated radio receiver (e.g. GNU Radio).

So for the moment, since I'm stuck with AT&T Wireless for the time being, and because I use DECT 6.0 phones at home, I have no assurance that my conversations are secure. You might say "well who cares - I have nothing to hide!" - well, how many times do you use your cell or home wireless phone to perform financial transactions with your bank, broker, credit card company,...?

No comments:

Post a Comment