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Vulnerability in the WIB SIM-browser allows attackers to take control of millions of mobile phones around the world

Previously, E Hacking News reported on the Simjacker vulnerability, which allows to monitor the owners of the phones.

Simjacker is the first real attack where the malicious instructions are sent directly in the SMS message. Interestingly, messages are not stored in either inbox or outbox, so everything happens completely unnoticed by the victim.

According to the researchers, attackers can exploit the vulnerability regardless of the brand of the user's device. A similar vulnerability was recorded on devices of many manufacturers, including Apple, Samsung, Google, HUAWEI and others.

According to Adaptive Mobile Security experts, the vulnerability has been exploited for at least two years by highly sophisticated cyber criminals (most likely working for the government) to spy on users.

Ginno Security Lab experts claim they identified similar kind of vulnerabilities in 2015 and this is the first time they are publishing the details.

Adaptive Mobile Security said that everything starts with sending a malicious SMS-message. It can be sent from a phone, GSM modem or even a computer. After opening, this malicious message launches the S@T Browser program installed on each SIM card, as mobile operators use it to provide their services. In this way, attackers can gain full control of the victim's phone.

The company Ginno Security Lab claims that they have found vulnerability in both WIB simcard-browser and S@T simcard-browsers.

"The Wireless Internet Browser (WIB) is specified by SmartTrust and is the market leading solution for SIM toolkit based browsing".

By sending a malicious SMS message to the victim's phone number, an attacker can exploit vulnerabilities in the WIB simcard-browser to remotely gain control of the victim's mobile phone to perform malicious actions.  In their demo, they remotely made a call from victim's phone to another phone.

The impact of the vulnerability in WIB is spreading around the world and putting hundreds of millions of telecommunication subscribers worldwide at risk. The security vulnerability comes from the SIM card, does not depend on mobile phones or the mobile phone operating system, so every mobile phone is affected.

According to the researchers, one of the main reasons for the existence of Simjacker vulnerability today is the use of outdated technologies in SIM cards, the specifications of which have not been updated since 2009. Experts have already information their findings to the GSM Association, a trade organisation that represents the interests of mobile operators around the world.

Hackers Exploiting a Critical Weakness in Mobile Phones to Track Location

The interface designed for the usage of cell carriers is being exploited heavily by attackers. It allows the cell carriers to get in direct touch with the SIM cards inside subscribers' smartphones, the interface can be employed by the carriers for allowing subscribers to make use of the data stored on their SIM card to provide account balances along with other specialized services.

Hackers can secretly track the location of subscribers by exploiting the interface and giving commands to acquire the IMEI identification code of device; the Simjacker exploit further allows them to carry out actions such as making calls or sending messages.

According to the researchers at AdaptiveMobile Security, the working of the Simjacker exploit is not limited to a few devices, rather, it can be carried out on a wide range of mobile phones, irrespective of their software or hardware.

Unfolding the various aspects of the attack, Dan Guido, a mobile security expert and the CEO of security firm Trail of Bits told Ars, “This attack is platform-agnostic, affects nearly every phone, and there is little anyone except your cell carrier can do about it.”

While commenting on the issue, Karsten Nohl, the chief scientist at SRLabs, told Ars, “We could trigger the attack only on SIM cards with weak or non-existent signature algorithms, which happened to be many SIM cards at the time,”

 “AdaptiveMobile seems to have found a way in which the same attack works even if signatures are properly checked, which is a big step forward in attack research.” He added.

Ethical Hacker to Demonstrate 'Weak' Mobile Internet Security

BERLIN — A German computer engineer said Tuesday that he had deciphered the code used to encrypt most of the world’s mobile Internet traffic and that he planned to publish a guide to prompt global operators to improve their safeguards.

Karsten Nohl, who published the algorithms used by mobile operators to encrypt voice conversations on digital phone networks in 2009, said during an interview he planned to demonstrate how he had intercepted and read the data during a presentation Wednesday.

Mr. Nohl said he and a colleague, Luca Melette, intercepted and decrypted wireless data using an inexpensive, modified, 7-year-old Motorola cellphone and several free software applications. The two intercepted and decrypted data traffic in a five-kilometer, or 3.1-mile, radius, Mr. Nohl said.
The interceptor phone was used to test networks in Germany, Italy and other European countries that Mr. Nohl declined to identify. In Germany, Mr. Nohl said he was able to decrypt and read data transmissions on all four mobile networks — T-Mobile, O2 Germany, Vodafone and E-Plus. He described the level of encryption provided by operators as “weak.”

In Italy, Mr. Nohl said his interceptions revealed that two operators, TIM, the mobile unit of the market leader, Telecom Italia, and Wind did not encrypt their mobile data transmissions at all. A third, Vodafone Italia, provided weak encryption, he said.

A spokeswoman for the GSM Association, the industry group based in London that represents global telephone operators, said the group would await details of Mr. Nohl’s research before commenting. A spokesman for O2, which is owned by Telefónica of Spain, said the operator followed Mr. Nohl’s research closely and would take account his findings in its own operations.

Vodafone said in a statement that “We regularly review security measures and carry out risk assessments to prevent the kind of exploit described. We implement appropriate measures across our networks to protect our customers’ privacy.”

Mr. Nohl said he developed his interception technology on an internal broadband network he set up at his research firm, Security Research Labs, in Berlin. His tests focused on mobile data networks that ran on the General Packet Radio Service, or GPRS, technology, which is used widely across the globe.

GPRS networks were introduced in 2000 as successors to GSM digital networks and were the first mobile networks to deliver significant data besides short text messages. GPRS networks are still widely used as backups for newer, faster 3G wireless networks, and consumers are often diverted to GPRS grids when they reach the limits of their monthly data plans.

Rogers Communications, a Canadian operator, estimates that 90 percent of mobile data traffic still runs on GPRS networks.

Mr. Nohl said he was surprised to find that the two Italian operators, TIM and Wind, did not encrypt their data traffic at all. In a statement, TIM would not confirm Mr. Nohl’s claims.

“TIM confirms that it uses state-of-the-art radio mobile technologies from primary international vendors to guarantee the protection of its mobile communications,” it said.

Mr. Nohl, who said he works for mobile operators who hire him to detect vulnerabilities in their systems, said many operators continue to run unencrypted data networks because it allows them to more easily filter out competing, unwanted services like Skype, an Internet-based service that allows consumers to make voice and video calls without using the operators’ voice networks.

“One reason operators keep giving me for switching off encryption is, operators want to be able to monitor traffic, to detect and suppress Skype, or to filter viruses, in a decentralized fashion,” Mr. Nohl said. “With encryption switched on, the operator cannot ‘look into’ the traffic anymore while in transit to the central GPRS system.”

Mr. Nohl said he intended to release his instructions at a conference of the Chaos Computer Club, a computer hackers’ group, which is being held near Berlin in Finowfurt, Germany. They will describe how to convert a Motorola C-123 cellphone, which is designed to run open-source software, into an interception device. But he said he would not release the keys to unlock the encryption used by operators to secure GPRS networks.

Mr. Nohl said his research was intended to prod mobile operators to improve the security of the wireless Internet, which he said was rudimentary compared with the safeguards protecting data sent over conventional, fixed-line computer networks. He said he destroyed the data he had intercepted from networks in Europe, and did not condone eavesdropping, a crime in Europe.

“We are releasing the software needed to reprogram cheap Motorola phones to become GPRS interceptors,” Mr. Nohl said. “This exposes operators with no encryption, like those in Italy, to immediate risk.”

Mr. Nohl said the release of the information would give mobile operators “a few months” to improve security before other hackers recreated his results and attempted to breech security of the mobile broadband networks.

source: nytimes