All GSM calls under threat from hackers

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.”

“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” he added.

Simon Bransfield-Garth, CEO Cellcrypt commented: “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.”

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