Researchers have demonstrated an alarmingly simple technique for eavesdropping on individual GSM mobile calls without the need to use expensive, specialised equipment.
During a session at the Chaos Computer Club Congress (CCC) in Berlin, Karsten Nohl and Sylvain Munaut used cheap Motorola handsets running a replacement firmware based on open source code to intercept data coming from a network base station.
Armed with this, they were able to locate the unique ID for any phone using this base, breaking the encryption keys with a rainbow table lookup.
Although far from trivial as hacks go, the new break does lower the bar considerably compared to previous hacks shown by the same reasearchers. In 2009, Nohl published a method for cracking open GSM’s A5/1 encryption design using a lookup table in near real time.
Another important detail is that Nohl was able to replace the firmware of the handsets with custom software. According to the BBC report on which most stories are being based, this was only possible because the Motorola handsets in question had been reverse engineered after an unspecified leak.
How easy would it be to exploit the new hack? In short, not particularly easy. Creating a custom lookup table similar to Nohl’s would take months of work and any eavesdropper would still need to break into the handset in question.
The crack does lower the bar from being a hardware problem to one of software expertise, which will cause some alarm in the GSM engineering community.
By John E Dunn,
Ncrack is a high-speed network authentication cracking tool. It was built to help companies secure their networks by proactively testing all their hosts and networking devices for poor passwords. Security professionals also rely on Ncrack when auditing their clients. Ncrack was designed using a modular approach, a command-line syntax similar to Nmap and a dynamic engine that can adapt its behaviour based on network feedback. It allows for rapid, yet reliable large-scale auditing of multiple hosts.
Ncrack’s features include a very flexible interface granting the user full control of network operations, allowing for very sophisticated bruteforcing attacks, timing templates for ease of use, runtime interaction similar to Nmap’s and many more.
Ncrack was started as a “Google Summer of Code” Project in 2009. While it is already useful for some purposes, it is still unfinished, alpha quality software. It is released as a standalone tool.
Ncrack is available for many different platforms, including Linux, *BSD, Windows and Mac OS X. There are already installers for Windows and Mac OS X and there is a universal source code tarball that can be compiled on every system.
Example: A representative Ncrack scan
$ ncrack 10.0.0.130:21 192.168.1.2:22
Starting Ncrack 0.01ALPHA ( http://ncrack.org ) at 2009-07-24 23:05 EEST
Discovered credentials for ftp on 10.0.0.130 21/tcp:
10.0.0.130 21/tcp ftp: admin hello1
Discovered credentials for ssh on 192.168.1.2 22/tcp:
192.168.1.2 22/tcp ssh: guest 12345
192.168.1.2 22/tcp ssh: admin money$
Ncrack done: 2 services scanned in 156.03 seconds.
Ncrack Man Page: http://nmap.org/ncrack/man.html
Ncrack Home: http://nmap.org/ncrack
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