New Attacks Against 4G LTE Mobile Networks Registered

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Security experts have registered 10 new malware attacks against the 4G LTE protocol, which could allow adversaries snoop on messages, deny service, and track users’ location.

The researchers’ whitepaper reveals some information on LTEInspector – the adversarial model-based testing approach they decided to adopt in this quest, and on the 10 new vulnerabilities the experts found in the protocol, together with nine older attacks.

According to the researchers, the LTEInspector was created to analyze three critical procedures in the 4G LTE network – attach, detach, and paging.

The experts also claim that the new approach is tool-agnostic and it can be “instantiated via any generic symbolic model checker and cryptographic protocol verifier”.

Thanks to the new approach, the researchers found undocumented attacks on each of the critical procedures in the protocol. Four of these attacks affect the attach procedure, one affects the detach procedure, and five affect paging.

The first attack is called Authentication Synchronization Failure and it could disrupt the attach procedure, resulting in the victim experiencing service disruption.

The Traceability Attack can be exploited to track a particular victim user equipment.

“This attack can also be performed for a specific user with only the knowledge of victim’s phone number,” the experts state.

The Numb Attack lets the adversary inject an out-of-sequence control-plane protocol message and disrupt the service of a victim user device until restart. This issue can be related to other types of assaults to impersonate the user.

The Paging Channel Hijacking attack lets an adversary hijack the user device’s paging channel, preventing it from receiving legitimate paging messages. This means that the victim does not receive service notifications like incoming phone calls or SMS, for instance.

The Stealthy kicking-off Attack disconnects the user device from the Evolved Packet Core (EPC) and it can be used as a prerequisite of the Authentication Relay Attack.

During the Panic Attack, an adversary injects fake emergency paging messages to numerous user devices, creating artificial emergency.

An adversary could also launch Energy Depletion Attacks to make user devices “perform expensive cryptographic operations,” by forcing them to carry out the expensive attach procedure again and again.

The Linkability Attack allows an adversary to trace a user device in a cell area by broadcasting a paging with the user’s IMSI and observing the received attach request.

The Detach/Downgrade Attack is the only attack against the detach procedure, where the adversary injects network initiated detach requests to disrupt the user’s service.

According to the security experts, some of the new attacks could be related to previously known assault methods, which could have wider implications. Such attack is the Authentication Relay Attack, where the user device is disconnected from the EPC and the adversary connects instead, impersonating it, despite the lack of proper credentials.

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Nelly Vladimirova
Nelly Vladimirova has been working as a journalist since 1998 with a main focus on Finance, Economics, and IT. In 2004 she graduated the University of Plovdiv, Bulgaria, as a Bachelor in English Philology and Master in Linguistics and Translation. Later, Nelly received a postgraduate certificate in Business Management from Scott's College, UK. Presently, she is presenting the latest news related to computer security at www.virusguides.com.

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