Analysis and Mitigation of Recent Attacks on Mobile Communication Backend

In the last quarter of 2014, several successful attacks against mobile networks were demonstrated. They are based on misuse of one of the key signaling protocol, SS7, which is extensively used in the mobile communication backend for signaling tasks such as call and mobility management. The attackers were able to locate the mobile users and intercept voice calls and text messages. While most attacks in the public eye are those which exploits weaknesses in the end-device software or radio access links, these recently demonstrated vulnerabilities exploit weaknesses of the mobile core networks themselves. Understandably, there is a scramble in the mobile telecommunications industry to understand the attacks and the underlying vulnerabilities. This thesis is part of that effort.

This thesis presents a broad and thorough overview and analysis of the known attacks against mobile network signaling protocols and the possible mitigation strategies. The attacks are presented in a uniform way, in relation to the mobile network protocol standards and signaling scenarios. Moreover, this thesis also presents a new attack that enables a malicious party with access to the signaling network to remove lost or stolen phones from the blacklist that is intended to prevent their use. Both the known and new attacks have been confirmed by implementing them in a controlled test environment. The attacks are serious because SS7, despite its age, remains the main signaling protocol in the mobile networks and will still long be required for interoperability and background compatibility in international roaming. Moreover, the number of entities with access to the core network, and hence the number of potential attackers, has increased significantly because of changes in regulation and opening of the networks to competition. The analysis and new results of this thesis will help mobile network providers and operators to assess the vulnerabilities in their infrastructure and to make security-aware decisions regarding their future investments and standardization. The results will be presented to the operators, network-equipment vendors, and to the 3GPP standards body.

Siddhart Rao (Aalto University): Analysis and Mitigation of Recent Attacks on Mobile Communication Backend

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