The Cell Phone Network Hack Of The Decade

In 2005, the cell phone of the prime minister of Greece and those of 100 other people were secretly tapped by what in my opinion is the most extraordinary attack on a cell phone network that has been uncovered to date. The July 2007 issue of the IEEE Spectrum magazine has a very good summary of what happened, how the spy program was detected and the consequences. The article is also available online.

Here’s the elevator pitch:

  • Unidentified hackers design a secret patch for Ericsson Mobile Switching Centers and mange to insert the code into switches in the Vodafone Greece network.
  • The code checks all calls and taps conversations made over 100 selected phones. These conversations are in effect duplicated and forwarded to other mobile phones.
  • The hackers make a mistake when they update their spy program and logs are generated by the switch. This tips of Vodafone and Ericcson which then start an investigation.
  • And for the rest… read the article.

It’s one thing to program a virus or trojan horse for a Windows, MAC or Linux box. Secretly inserting code into a GSM Mobile Switching Center which does not run an off the shelf operating system, however, is quite another. It definitely shows why Cryptophones that encrypt a call from mobile to mobile are worth their money. I wonder, how many of those 100 people used one…

One thought on “The Cell Phone Network Hack Of The Decade”

  1. The IEEE Spectrum article points out that the necessary expertise to develop and install the software bug was available locally in Greece, but also points out that the targeting of Arab callers suggests US involvement. Since the US has had a long history of political involvement in Greece (since WWII), both might be correct.
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