LTE Vulnerability Could Allow Hacker to Send Fake Emergency Alerts

LTE Vulnerability Could Allow Hacker to Send Fake Emergency Alerts

One of the ten attacks can create "artificial choas" by sending a fake emergency alert to cell phone users.

A laundry list of discovered vulnerabilities can wreak havoc on 4G LTE network users by eavesdropping on phone calls and text messages, knocking devices offline and even sending fake emergency alerts to smartphone users.

Ten potential attacks outlined in a paper by researchers at Purdue University and the University of Iowa expose weaknesses in three critical protocol operations of the cellular network, such as securing attacking a device to the network and maintaining a connection to receive calls and messages.

Those flaws could allow authentication relay attacks that can allow a hacker to connect to a 4G LTE network by impersonating an existing user - such as a phone number.

While this attack isn't new, the latest research suggests that it can be used to intercept a message, track a user's location a phone from connecting to the network.

"Among the 10 newly detected attacks, we have verified eight of them in a real testbed with SIM cards from four major US carriers," one of the researchers on the project Syed Rafiul explained. "The root cause of most of these attacks are the lacks of proper authentication, encryption, and replay protection in the important protocol messages."

These vulnerabilities can be used to spoof the location of a victim device, which could hamper criminal investigations by planting false location information and could even help criminals plant false alibi information.

Another attack can maliciously inject warning messages, such as emergency notices and Amber alerts, to devices in a given area to cause "artificial chaos." In January, a mistaken emergency alert claiming to threaten Hawaii with a ballistic missile caused mass panic.

5G networks promise to be faster and more secure than any cell networks we've seen before, but unfortunately 4G LTE isn't going away anytime soon.


About the Author

Sydny Shepard is the Executive Editor of Campus Security & Life Safety.

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