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Researchers eavesdrop on encrypted GSM call: all you need is a $15 phone and 180 seconds

Darren Murph
12.29.10
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It's hardly a fresh idea -- researchers have claimed that GSM calls could be cracked and listened in on for years. But there's a difference between being able to do something with a $50,000 machine and a warrant, and being able to do the same thing with a few $15 Motorola phones, a laptop, open source software and 180 seconds of spare time. Security Research Labs researcher Karsten Nohl and OsmocomBB project programmer Sylvain Munaut recently spoke about a new GSM hack at the Chaos Communication Conference in Berlin, and they were able to walk the audience through the eavesdropping process in a matter of minutes. According to them, it's not terribly difficult to use a $15 handset to "sniff out" location data used to correctly route calls and texts, and once you've nailed that down, you could use modified firmware to feed raw data into a laptop for decryption. Using a 2TB table of precomputed encryption keys, a cracking program was able to break in within 20 seconds -- after that, you're just moments away from recording a live GSM call between two phones. Of course, speeches like these are made to encourage security officials to beef up the layers between you and ill-willed individuals, but it's hard to say what (if anything) will change. For now, we'd recommend just flying to each and every person you'd like to speak with. Unless you live in the Greater New York area -- you're probably better off risking a hacked conversation than heading out to LGA / JFK / EWR.

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