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GSM encryption crack made public

Jan 14, 2010, 23:04 (0 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Nathan Willis)

"The schemes commonly used to encrypt GSM telephone calls, SMS messages, and data transmissions have been theoretically broken for years at both the protocol and cipher levels, but results presented in Berlin at the 26th Chaos Communication Congress (26C3) on December 27 demonstrate that a practical attack can be easily implemented. Researchers unveiled cracking tables requiring just two terabytes of disk space that can be used to look up a GSM encryption key and decrypt a transmission. The tables were computed on 40 commodity hardware PC nodes in just a few months' time, and are shared through Bittorrent. Furthermore, the presentation explains that the more difficult practical task of intercepting and capturing GSM calls can already be done with inexpensive radio equipment and open source software.

"Background

"The cipher under attack is known as A5/1; it was invented by the GSM Association in 1987. Due to the Cold War, A5/1 was deployed only in Western Europe and the United States, and was accompanied by a significantly weaker cipher called A5/2 for export to other regions. The GSM protocol supported both A5/1 and A5/2, plus A5/0, or unencrypted connections, a choice that left the protocol itself vulnerable to attack."

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