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Calls made on 4G LTE mobile networks could be susceptible to hackers, experts say

A study has exposed a security issue in the widely used mobile network

Photo (c) Tero Vesalainen - Getty Images
While one recent study has highlighted the ways hackers can hack into consumers’ cell phones, a new study is looking at yet another way consumers’ privacy could be manipulated through the network they use.

According to researchers from Ruhr-University Bochum, cell phone calls made on 4G LTE mobile networks could be susceptible to hackers. Though these networks should be immune to such attacks, the researchers learned that an issue in their security systems could leave many consumers vulnerable to these types of threats.  

“Voice over LTE has been in use for six years,” said researcher David Rupprecht. “We’re unable to verify whether attackers have exploited the security gap in the past.” 

Not-so-private phone calls

The majority of consumers utilize LTE networks on their mobile phones to do everything from searching the internet to making texts and calls. One of the benefits of this kind of network is that it is designed to keep consumers’ data private. However, the researchers learned that this isn’t always the case. 

When consumers make private calls on their phones, the contents of such conversations are kept safe with a unique encryption code. When all calls have their own codes, consumers’ information can stay private. However, this study revealed that it’s rather easy for hackers to get repeated codes and ultimately steal information from consumers. 

“The attacker has to engage the victim in a conversation,” said Rupprecht. “The longer the attacker talked to the victim, the more content of the previous conversation he or she was able to decrypt.” 

The process needs to occur rather quickly, and the hacker needs to be in the same mobile network as the person they’re trying to copy information from for it to work. But if the conditions are right, the researchers explained that all a hacker has to do is call their target not long after they’ve ended a separate call to gain access to an encryption code to steal information. 

The researchers analyzed random calls made on an LTE network across Germany. They found that 80 percent of the calls they examined were affected by this kind of security breach.

While this is certainly cause for concern, the researchers noted that several mobile networks have already resolved this issue. However, it’s still very important for consumers to be aware of these potential vulnerabilities and to stay vigilant since it’s impossible to determine if the issue has been completely eradicated. 

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