Home / News

Researchers Demonstrate Serious Privacy Attacks on 4G and 5G Protocols

A group of academic researchers have revealed a design weakness in the 4G/5G protocol which can be exploited by an attacker to identify the victim’s presence in a particular cell area just from the victim’s soft-identity such as phone number and Twitter handle. “Any person with a little knowledge of cellular paging protocols can carry out this attack,” said Syed Rafiul Hussain, one of the co-authors of the paper, told TechCrunch.

The abstract below from the paper released today called “Privacy Attacks to the 4G and 5G Cellular Paging Protocols Using Side Channel Information” specifies the dangers of the discovered vulnerability.

“The cellular paging (broadcast) protocol strives to balance between a cellular device’s energy consumption and quality-of-service by allowing the device to only periodically poll for pending services in its idle, low-power state. For a given cellular device and serving network, the exact time periods when the device polls for services (called the paging occasion) are fixed by design in the 4G/5G cellular protocol. In this paper, we show that the fixed nature of paging occasions can be exploited by an adversary in the vicinity of a victim to associate the victim’s softidentity (e.g., phone number, Twitter handle) with its paging occasion, with only a modest cost, through an attack dubbed ToRPEDO. Consequently, ToRPEDO can enable an adversary to verify a victim’s coarse-grained location information, inject fabricated paging messages, and mount denial-of-service attacks. We also demonstrate that, in 4G and 5G, it is plausible for an adversary to retrieve a victim device’s persistent identity (i.e., IMSI) with a brute-force IMSI-Cracking attack while using ToRPEDO as an attack sub-step. Our further investigation on 4G paging protocol deployments also identified an implementation oversight of several network providers which enables the adversary to launch an attack, named PIERCER, for associating a victim’s phone number with its IMSI; subsequently allowing targeted user location tracking. All of our attacks have been validated and evaluated in the wild using commodity hardware and software. We finally discuss potential countermeasures against the presented attacks.”

By CircleID Reporter

CircleID’s internal staff reporting on news tips and developing stories. Do you have information the professional Internet community should be aware of? Contact us.

Visit Page

Filed Under

CircleID Newsletter The Weekly Wrap

More and more professionals are choosing to publish critical posts on CircleID from all corners of the Internet industry. If you find it hard to keep up daily, consider subscribing to our weekly digest. We will provide you a convenient summary report once a week sent directly to your inbox. It's a quick and easy read.

I make a point of reading CircleID. There is no getting around the utility of knowing what thoughtful people are thinking and saying about our industry.

VINTON CERF
Co-designer of the TCP/IP Protocols & the Architecture of the Internet

Comments

Rather Disingenuous Anthony Rutkowski  –  Feb 26, 2019 10:31 PM

Since the 5G Phase 1 radio interface had to accommodate the 4G specs, the exploits also continued.  A more fair review (and better reporting) would note that subsequent 5G releases that are fully 5G, address these vulnerabilities as explained in 3GPP’s note on the subject.

Comment Title:

  Notify me of follow-up comments

We encourage you to post comments and engage in discussions that advance this post through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can report it using the link at the end of each comment. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of CircleID. For more information on our comment policy, see Codes of Conduct.

Related

Topics

Domain Names

Sponsored byVerisign

IPv4 Markets

Sponsored byIPXO

Cybersecurity

Sponsored byVerisign

Domain Management

Sponsored byMarkMonitor

Threat Intelligence

Sponsored byWhoisXML API