A group of researchers discovered a number of weaknesses in the 4G LTE networks that could be exploited by attackers to eavesdrop on phone calls and text messages, knock devices offline, track location, and spoof emergency alerts.
A group of researchers from Purdue and the University of Iowa have discovered a number of vulnerabilities affecting the 4G LTE networks that could be exploited by attackers to eavesdrop on phone calls and text messages, knock devices offline, track location, and spoof emergency alerts.
The experts detailed ten different attacks in a research paper, the experts leverage weaknesses in three critical protocol operations of the cellular network, such as securely attaching a device to 4G LTE networks and maintaining a connection to receive calls and messages.
“In this paper, we investigate the security and privacy of the three critical procedures of the 4G LTE protocol (i.e., attach, detach, and paging), and in the process, uncover potential design flaws of the protocol and unsafe practices employed by the stakeholders.” reads the paper published by the experts.”For exposing vulnerabilities, we propose a model based testing approach LTEInspector which lazily combines a symbolic model checker and a cryptographic protocol verifier in the symbolic attacker model.”
The researchers devised a testing framework dubbed LTEInspector that they used to detect vulnerabilities in LTE radios and networks.
The group tested eight of the ten attacks using SIM cards from four large US carriers.
The researchers demonstrated how to conduct authentication relay attacks that allow them to bypass the network authentication and masquerade as a victim’s device.
An attacker can access 4G LTE networks and impersonate the victim.
” Using LTEInspector, we have uncovered 10 new attacks along with 9 prior attacks, categorized into three abstract classes (i.e., security, user privacy, and disruption of service), in the three procedures of 4G LTE.” continues the paper.
“Notable among our findings is the authentication relay attack that enables an adversary to spoof the location of a legitimate user to the core network without possessing appropriate credentials. To ensure that the exposed attacks pose real threats and are indeed realizable in practice, we have validated 8 of the 10 new attacks and their accompanying adversarial assumptions through experimentation in a real testbed”
The researchers highlighted the dangers related to the exploitation of the flaws, an attacker can spoof the location of the victim device, which could lead to interference in criminal investigations by planting false location information, which could allow crooks to create fake evidence.
The weaknesses could be exploited by threat actors to cause the chaos by injecting warning messages, emergency notices, and Amber alerts in the 4G LTE networks.
One of the scenarios tested by the researchers, a major US carrier never used encryption for control plane messages allowing an attacker to exploit the issues to eavesdrop the SMS and other sensitive data. The good news is that the US carrier has promptly addressed the flaw and deployed a fix.
The scary aspect of this research is that a cheap equipment (common software-defined radio devices) and open source 4G LTE protocol software could be bought by anyone to carry out the attacks.
Anyone can build the equipment to power the attacks for as little as $1,300 to $3,900.
The researchers announced that they plan to release the proof-of-concept code once the vulnerabilities will be fixed.
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