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Fake GSM Base Station Trick Targets IPhones 64

mvar writes "While his Black Hat DC Conference demonstration was not flawless, a University of Luxembourg student on Wednesday did show that it's possible to trick iPhone users into joining a fake GSM network. Ralf-Philipp Weinmann showed how to cobble together a laptop using open-source software OpenBTS and other low-cost gear to create a fake GSM transmitter base station to locate iPhones in order to send their owners a message. A number of iPhone users in the room expressed surprise that they had gotten a message asking them to join the network. 'You want to get phones not just used by the teenage crowd but executives,' said Weinmann, adding that it is possible to 'have complete control of the phone.' Part of the reason these fake GSM network attacks are possible is because the code base used in smartphones such as the iPhone, which is Infineon-based, goes back to the 1990s."
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Fake GSM Base Station Trick Targets IPhones

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  • Users click on "Click here to install Rogue Antivirus for free!" links, children click on flashing boxes regardless of anything, and executives make money off of the backs of much lower paid workers!!!

  • by _0rm_ ( 1638559 ) on Thursday January 20, 2011 @01:24PM (#34941530) Journal
    The exploit he demonstrated has since been patched by Apple.
    • What was the version that got patched? I'm a couple of updates behind.
      • by _0rm_ ( 1638559 )
        He didn't say. You can read his comment bellow the twitter stuff on the article page.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You are missing the point. This is a chipset issue and just the tip of the iceberg. Apple can't patch this properly it requires the chipset manufacturer to update their code which is no easy process on a lot of devices. While the iphone was the demo you can bet that others are affected too.

      • by Atti K. ( 1169503 ) on Thursday January 20, 2011 @02:08PM (#34942150)
        Chipset issue and Apple issue too. No matter how crappy the baseband, it shouldn't be able to tell my phone to record audio and transmit it later. BTW, this kind of attack should be impossible on 3G, but I guess GSM will still be around for many years.
    • ...and it took about an hour to circumvent the Apple patches. They really don't have a clue!
  • All Phones? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tsj5j ( 1159013 ) on Thursday January 20, 2011 @01:25PM (#34941546)

    I had the impression that most, if not all, phones are vulnerable to this attack due to the inherent flaws in GSM.
    This is a rather old news article that has been reported multiple times.

    Why is it suddenly "news" again when someone discover it works on the iPhone?
    And if you're on about targeting business users, won't a compromised Blackberry be as, if not more, significant?

    • Re:All Phones? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by MickyTheIdiot ( 1032226 ) on Thursday January 20, 2011 @01:38PM (#34941728) Homepage Journal

      for the same reason your boss wants an iPhone instead of an Android-based phone... too many people are stuck on brand names. When an brand name gets attached to a story, holy mother of God suddenly it's important.

      • by Wovel ( 964431 )

        Maybe his boss wants a mobile phone with a real application market.

    • by perpenso ( 1613749 ) on Thursday January 20, 2011 @01:43PM (#34941792)

      I had the impression that most, if not all, phones are vulnerable to this attack due to the inherent flaws in GSM. This is a rather old news article that has been reported multiple times. Why is it suddenly "news" again when someone discover it works on the iPhone? And if you're on about targeting business users, won't a compromised Blackberry be as, if not more, significant?

      Its only "news" because of iPhone. If you don't mention iPhone in your title or description then your article/page will have fewer readers and you presentation will have fewer attendees. Basically mentioning iPhone in your title is marketing and even presentations have to be marketed.

    • Re:All Phones? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by davester666 ( 731373 ) on Thursday January 20, 2011 @01:47PM (#34941862) Journal

      Blackberry's are immune to all attacks because RIM is focused on selling to business, and they know that business cares about security.

      Apple isn't focused on business, they are focused on regular consumers, and consumers care about ease of use and not security.

      Therefore iPhones and virus-laden, malware-spouting candybar phones and Blackberry's are serious, productive work phones.

      • So you assume that executives can't be duped into installing PhoneSnoop onto a blackberry. Also, what special phone protocol does these blackberries use? I'd assume that the ones on T-Mobile and ATT are GSM.

        Not to mention there is a PDF exploit in the blackberry, it was announced last week on US CERT.

        I think you've been blinded by your fanboism...

        • And a whoosh to you sir.

          • Yes whoosh to me...

            You appeared to be serious.

            • Well, I would think this claim would make it obvious my post was ridiculous:

              "Blackberry's are immune to all attacks"

              • by Fwipp ( 1473271 )

                Though you may find it hard to believe, simply saying dumb things doesn't count as humor.

                • That's a good point, very often overlooked. But it can't be overlooked, really, when talking about the behaviors and desires of the management class. The dumbest things ever uttered were probably spoken in perfect and innocent sincerity by a PHB at some point in time.

                  Too many are the times I've chuckled at the ridiculous and clearly humorous pronouncement of a manager, only to be greeted with a bewildered stare and a "What's so funny?".

                  So, yeah, dumb stuff isn't always humor, and stuff like that makes an in

              • by Wovel ( 964431 )

                Your post was serious, then you got wtf pwned and tried to take it back. If all you had written was the first line, than maybe it was a joke. You went into a bit of an explanation there..

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ModernGeek ( 601932 )
      Also, when is code inherently flawed because it, "goes back to the 1990s". IIRC, this flaw has to do with phones connecting to unencrypted gsm networks without warning. I, for one am sick of this sensationalism. Where can I get some scientific news with well moderated discussion that will ensue?
    • by Minwee ( 522556 )

      Why is it suddenly "news" again when someone discover it works on the iPhone?

      And it will become news once more as soon as someone figures out how to involve Twitter.

    • This is a rather old news article that has been reported multiple times. Why is it suddenly "news" again when someone discover it works on the iPhone?

      I might be just speaking for myself, but I think there's value in re-reporting certain stories. It may bore those few experts who follow such news closely and remember everything, but I for one didn't know that this could happen and I suspect only about 1% of cell phone owners do.

      It would be nice if news outlets would rehash stories from time to time. Important ones anyway, they -LOVE- to rehash sex scandals. Reminding US voters that there's still an expensive and deadly war going on... not so much.

  • by astern ( 1823792 ) on Thursday January 20, 2011 @01:40PM (#34941756)

    ... is always dangerous, but this goes beyond that.

    Much more than a legacy leftover, this remains a chipset and baseband issue, and goes much deeper than the application set.

  • White hat (Score:3, Funny)

    by Stavr0 ( 35032 ) on Thursday January 20, 2011 @01:52PM (#34941922) Homepage Journal

    Cool. Can we get it as an Asterisk plugin? [] or a Skype proxy?

  • by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Thursday January 20, 2011 @01:55PM (#34941972)

    If you've joined a bogus network, your first text message will read "How are you gentlemen!!"

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The old Fake GSM Base Station trick. That's the second time this week I fell for it!

  • Perhaps this is why Apple is moving to Qualcomm for future iPhone chips, starting with the CDMA iPhone for Verizon and other carriers. (This has been widely reported; I first saw it on Engadget.) This will almost certainly continue with iPhone 5.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 20, 2011 @06:40PM (#34945818)

      If I were Infineon (and I'm not, never have been affiliated with them), I would be hopping mad at being blamed for this kind of security flaw.

      It is a GSM flaw and it is a basic architectural/protocol flaw - not a hardware OR (strictly) software vulnerability.

      The problem is simple. GSM phones inherently trust GSM base stations to be authentic. A GSM phone has no way to validate the authenticity of an "alleged" base station. If the phone comes across a GSM BCH (broadcast channel) in its spectrum, and the BCH adheres to GSM protocol format, the phone accepts that the BCH is being transmitted by an authentic base station. There is nothing in the signal (messaging) that can be used to validate the base station's authenticity.

      This was changed in UMTS (aka 3G). In UMTS, the protocol by which a UMTS phone attaches to a UMTS base station includes MUTUAL authentication. The base station must cryptographically prove its authenticity or the phone will not associate with it. This authentication related cryptography is performed inside the SIM card (called USIM application in UMTS) -- the phone simply serves as courier - between the base station and the USIM. The USIM tells the phone whether it finds the base station's credentials to be acceptable. Since the base station is authenticating the USIM's credentials as well, the authentication is mutual. Both the USIM - AND- the base station (actually the core network behind the base station) have to find each others' credentials acceptable, or the phone will not attach.

      There is nothing Infineon or Apple or anyone else can do to "fix" this vulnerability in GSM. UMTS is the "fix".

      P.S. Turning femtocells into rogue base stations is theoretically possible -- it is up to the femtocell manufacturer to build safeguards into their designs to make this impossible (I know - I've worked on just such safeguard designs in a past life...)

    • Scratch that. The Anonymous Coward following my post needs to be modded up.
  • There are a lot of people discussing "flaws" in the GSM, "nice features" in UMTS and no one mentioning stupiid truth.
    Problem not in the protocols, or software. Problem is that operators think that they have right to control user equipment.

    And when this equipment grows from the stupid phone to full-featured computer, user privacy goes void.

    Do not be afraid of rogue with laptop, be afraid of operator's insider.

    What would happen if next generation of phones would get direct brain interfaces? You'll allow operators to control your brain just like now they control your calendars and bookshelves?

"For a male and female to live continuously together is... biologically speaking, an extremely unnatural condition." -- Robert Briffault