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GSM hack for just 500 dollars predicted

Cellcrypt : 07 September, 2009  (Technical Article)
CellCrypt voices its concerns at the increasing availability of simple and cheap tools for breaking GSM encryption codes with hackers predicting a 500 dollar tool to be available within 6 months
GSM call can be listened to by anyone with $500 and a laptop within six months.

At the recent Hacking at Random (HAR) conference, Karsten Nohl detailed plans for cracking standard GSM cell phone encryption, known as A5/1, and making the results available for anyone to use.

The implications for businesses, individuals and the mobile industry are enormous:

* Once complete it means anyone with a $500 radio card and a laptop will be able to listen in to GSM calls
* It marks a lowering of the bar for criminals to be able to hack calls
* It makes having someone listen to our calls a real-life threat for all of us

Stan Schatt, Vice President and Practice Director, Healthcare and Security at ABI Research, commented, "Potentially this news could have as profound an impact on the cell phone industry as the breaking of WEP encryption had on the wireless LAN industry."

Stan Schatt went on to say "The threat is very real - probably within the next 6-12 months ... Hackers have been quick to break into wireless LANs within the US, so there is no reason to think they won't move to cell phones once they have the tools in place, particularly because so much valuable information is transmitted over cell phones."

"While most people have long suspected that governments have been able to intercept and decrypt cell calls, they have felt reasonably protected from criminals and corporate espionage … [now] … average folks also have to fear criminals learning valuable information about their bank accounts, personal affairs, etc. Equally if not more important, our research shows that employees talk about corporate sensitive information on their cell phones a good deal of the time."

"Potentially this news could have as profound an impact on the cell phone industry as the breaking of WEP encryption had on the wireless LAN industry. When people discovered that their wireless LANs were vulnerable, it slowed the sale of equipment until an industry group—the Wi-Fi Alliance -stepped in and came up with interim security standards. If people do nothing, we are likely to start to hear stories of sensitive information being compromised, acquisition information being leaked, personal financial security information being compromised, etc. We could see tales of blackmail and extortion on the rise."

Stuart Quick, Risk Management specialist at Henderson Risk Limited, commented: "The recent attention given to the hacking A5/1 is no surprise. It remains a Holy Grail amongst the hacking community and is intriguing because of the associated conspiracy theories. It is believed that the cipher has had weaknesses engineered in to it in order to make it easier for the security services to snoop on calls and that mobile communications providers are therefore misleading or incorrectly advertising their product's level of security."

"It goes without saying that should A5/1 be readily and easily compromised it could have a significant impact on users and mobile technology manufacturers."

Simon Bransfield-Garth, CEO Cellcrypt said, "Everybody has known for quite some time that a theoretical hack of GSM existed. This news means that the theoretical risk will become a very real one within the next six months. Governments have taken steps to manage the threat for years and now this is a very worrying prospect for anyone that discusses valuable or confidential information over their mobile phone."

"In our soon to be published research, undertaken amongst corporate users in the USA, 79% of people discuss confidential issues by phone every few days with 64% making such calls daily."
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