4G LTE Networks Could Send Fake Emergency Alerts

New attacks on 4G LTE networks could send fake emergency alerts, according to a recent paper from researchers at Purdue University.

In the paper, researchers identified a host of new vulnerabilities within 4G LTE networks, which allow hackers to forge the location of a mobile device and fabricate messages.

The paper outlined 10 new and nine previous attacks, which included an attack that enables users to perform DDoS intrusions after obtaining a user’s location. The attacker can stop incoming notifications and even fabricate messages.

A particularly worrying attack identified in the paper enables adversaries to send fake emergency alerts to numerous devices, and then forces devices to perform expensive cryptographic operations before draining the battery and disconnecting it from the core network.

The attacks occur within three critical procedures of the 4G LTE protocol: attach, detach and paging, the processes which allow a user to connect to the network, disconnect from the network, and receive calls and messages.

“Our tool is the first one that provides a systematic analysis for these three particular procedures in 4G LTE networks,” said Syed Hussain, a graduate student in computer science at Purdue University . “Combining the strength of these two tools is novel in the context of 4G LTE.”

Eight of the 10 attacks have been validated in a real testbed, but it looks as though there is no easy way to fix them; in fact, addressing the authentication relay attacks may require a major infrastructural overhaul.

“Device manufacturers and cell phone networks will both need to work to fix these problems.” Hussain said. “We need a major overhaul of the entire system to eliminate these vulnerabilities.”

The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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