MOST MOBILE CALLS around the world are made over the Global System for Mobile Communications standard; in the US, GSM underpins any call made over AT&T or T-Mobile’s network. But at the DefCon security conference in Las Vegas on Saturday, researchers from the BlackBerry are presenting an attack that can intercept GSM calls as they’re transmitted over the air and decrypt them to listen back to what was said. And the vulnerability has been around for decades.
Regular GSM calls aren’t fully end-to-end encrypted for maximum protection, but they are encrypted at many steps along their path, so random people can’t just tune into phone calls over the air like radio stations. The researchers found, though, that they can target the encryption algorithms used to protect calls and listen in on basically anything.
“GSM is a well documented and analyzed standard, but it’s an aging standard and it’s had a pretty typical cybersecurity journey,” says Campbell Murray, the global head of delivery for BlackBerry Cybersecurity. “The weaknesses we found are in any GSM implementation up to 5G. Regardless of which GSM implementation you’re using there is a flaw historically created and engineered that you’re exposing.”