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Researchers use children's toy to exploit security hole in feds' radios, eavesdrop on conversations

Amar Toor, @amartoo
08.11.11
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Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania have discovered a potentially major security flaw in the radios used by federal agents, as part of a new study that's sure to raise some eyebrows within the intelligence community. Computer science professor Matt Blaze and his team uncovered the vulnerability after examining a set of handheld and in-car radios used by law enforcement officials in two, undisclosed metropolitan areas. The devices, which operate on a wireless standard known as Project 25 (P25), suffer from a relatively simple design flaw, with indicators and switches that don't always make it clear whether transmissions are encrypted. And, because these missives are sent in segments, a hacker could jam an entire message by blocking just one of its pieces, without expending too much power. What's really shocking, however, is that the researchers were able to jam messages and track the location of agents using only a $30 IM Me texting device, designed for kids (pictured above). After listening in on sensitive conversations from officials at the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security, Barnes and his team have called for a "substantial top-to-bottom redesign" of the P25 system and have notified the agencies in question. The FBI has yet to comment on the study, but you can read the whole thing for yourself, at the link below.

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