SIM Maker Gemalto Confirms cyber attacks, but excludes key theft

Pierluigi Paganini February 26, 2015

SIM maker Gemalto confirmed that unknown hackers targeted its systems in the period indicated by Snowden, but denied any massive theft of encryption keys.

Just a week ago, the media agencies spread the news that US and British intelligence services have stolen encryption keys of the major SIM card maker Gemalto to spy on mobile voice and data communications worldwide.

According to The Intercept, the National Security Agency and the British counterpart GCHQ obtained encryption keys of the global SIM manufacturer Gemalto, but the company was totally oblivious about the operation. According the documents leaked by NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the agencies hacked into the Gemalto systems in 2010 and 2011.

NSA GCHQ Snowden leaked document Gemalto hack

Gemalto confirmed the cyber attacks in the period indicated by Snowden, but denied that hackers have stolen encryption keys that allowed them to run a surveillance activity on a large-scale.

“In 2010 and 2011, we detected two particularly sophisticated intrusions which could be related to the operation,” Gemalto said in an official statement. “During the same period, we also detected several attempts to access the PCs of Gemalto employees who had regular contact with customers,” “At the time we were unable to identify the perpetrators but we now think that they could be related to the NSA and GCHQ operation.”

Gemalto clarified that the attacks only impacted its office networks and systems that are not used to manage the SIM encryption keys. However the company confirmed that the attackers’ goal was to steal encryption keys as they were exchanged between Gemalto and its customers. The company confirmed that transfers of sensitive data ware operated through a secure channel.

“The attacks against Gemalto only breached its office networks and could not have resulted in a massive theft of SIM encryption keys,” it added. “by 2010, Gemalto had already widely deployed a secure transfer system with its customers and only rare exceptions to this scheme could have led to theft.” “In the case of an eventual key theft, the intelligence services would only be able to spy on communications on second generation 2G mobile networks.””3G and 4G networks are not vulnerable to this type of attack.”

The revelations made by Edward Snowden are transforming the TTPs of US intelligence and its allies, for this reason the NSA director Admiral Rogers recently invited to a profitable collaboration with private companies, the NSA Chief requested them the support to avoid hacking attacks run by foreign governmentsRussia and China first of all, and cyber criminals.

Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs –  Great SIM Heist, NSA, intelligence, Gemalto)

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