LTE networks vulnerable to jamming, a question of national security

Pierluigi Paganini November 18, 2012

Few months and also in Italy the wireless industry will live its mobile connectivity revolution with the introduction of new generation of networks LTE (Long Term Evolution), high-speed networks claiming speeds that are up to four times faster than comparable 3G networks.

But as happened with previous technologies its fundamental ask to ourselves how much secure are them and what are the security issue related. Researchers at Virginia Tech  however, have revealed that LTE networks may have serious vulnerabilities.

Jeff Reed, director of the wireless research group at Virginia Tech explained that using cheap equipment it is possible to disturb a large LTE base station that serves thousands of people.

A battery-operated transmitter that costs around $650 could interfere with new networks as he revealed, and simply improving the equipment with an inexpensive power amplifier to the transmitter it is possible take down communications in large areas.

“Picture a jammer that fits in a small briefcase that takes out miles of LTE signals—whether commercial or public safety,” “This can be relatively easy to do,”

The vulnerability in LTE network is related to the constant synchronization process between phone to base station, disturbing it is possible to block data transmission.

The team of scientists has found different vulnerabilities that could be exploited with a low-power transmitter compromising the communication.

The researchers Reed and Marc Lichtman, a graduate research assistant on the study, have proposed their analysis to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration that is evaluating the possibility of using LTE networks for communication between emergency responders.

In different occasions we have said that any countries need a proper cyber strategy that must consider the risks related to an attack against critical infrastructures such as telecommunication networks.

Similar vulnerabilities poses serious questions related to homeland security, cyber criminals or cyber terrorists could compromise LTE networks in a very simple. Reed reminded the difficult to prevent the attacks and to defend from them:

“Picture a jammer that fits in a small briefcase that takes out miles of LTE signals — whether commercial or public safety,”

As described in the conlusion of the study

“These comments describe extremely effective attacks can be realized, using fairly low complexity. It would be in the interest of public safety to take measures to reduce the vulnerability of Public Safety LTE, and lower the likelihood of an effective jamming attack. Certainly there are important cost advantage of keeping the public providing protection are desirable. We thank you for considering our views, and are eager to address any subsequent questions”

It’s crucial fix the vulnerabilities, the technological progress is not really progress until it is ensured maximum safety in the use of new solutions.

Pierluigi Paganini

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