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Snooping risk as hackers target mobile code

01 сентября 2009

A wave of mobile phone snooping is set to be unleashed within the next six months as a group of hackers mounts a concerted effort to crack the security code for the GSM mobile phone system, used by about 3bn people around the world.

The Chaos Computer Club, an influential, Germany-based hacking community with more than 4,000 members, is co-ordinating worldwide efforts to crack the code. Members of the club say they are doing so to raise awareness about security flaws in the GSM system. They say governments and organised crime gangs already hack into the GSM network and want to push mobile phone companies to improve security.

 “We want to inform people about the widespread insecurities in the technology that 3bn people are using. It claims to be secure, but really isn’t, and people are relying on it for banking and business,” said Karsten Nohl, a hacker and doctor of cryptography, who called for the internet community to join the project at the Hacking at Random conference in the Netherlands this month.

Once broken, the hackers plan to make the code freely available, putting a powerful tool in the hands of criminals, spies and others who may wish to intercept private phone calls.

Security experts say that anyone with a high-end laptop, a few pieces of radio equipment and a little knowledge could intercept calls.

Politicians, celebrities and business people would be most at risk of being snooped on. In 2007 a reporter from the UK’s News of The World Sunday tabloid and a private investigator were jailed for illegally tapping into the mobile phones of hundreds of high-profile figures in the quest for news stories.

A number of businesses, such as oil exploration companies routinely encrypt their phones to thwart corporate espionage.

The GSM system accounts for 80 per cent of the global mobile phone market and is used in more than 200 countries.

If the encryption code is broken, mobile phone operators, who are already suffering declining revenues from voice calls, could face large costs to upgrade their networks to improve security. The industry was forced to abandon a previous encryption system in 1999 after it was cracked by hackers. Newer mobile technologies, such as 3G, use a more secure form of encryption and will not be affected by this hacking attempt.

The GSM Association, the trade body for the mobile phone industry, dismissed the hacking threat as “a long way from being a practical attack”.

However, mobile phone operator Orange said: “We along with the other operators are monitoring the situation closely with the GSMA to ensure we are prepared for any potential threats.”


Источник: Financial Times

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