Oslo mobile espionage probably not high-level threat / News / The Foreigner

Oslo mobile espionage probably not high-level threat. EXTENDED ARTICLE: The IMSI Catchers used in the capital are likely not the most advanced pieces of equipment, security experts tell The Foreigner. They also present a civil liberties issue, however. Who is/are behind the current espionage is still undiscovered. The government’s present mobile data communications encryption is vulnerable. The National Security Authority (NSM) says this is due to a security versus functionality balance. Only the so-termed AES-256 bit encryption – based on the Rijndael cipher, developed by Belgian cryptographers Joan Daemen and Vincent Rijmen – is 100 per cent secure. 2G, 3G, and 4G are not.

spying, imsi, mobiles, politics, espionage, surveillance, paywall



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Oslo mobile espionage probably not high-level threat

Published on Tuesday, 16th December, 2014 at 13:19 under the news category, by Michael Sandelson   .
Last Updated on 8th January 2015 at 00:43.

EXTENDED ARTICLE: The IMSI Catchers used in the capital are likely not the most advanced pieces of equipment, security experts tell The Foreigner. They also present a civil liberties issue, however.

Mobile mast (illustration photo)
Mobile mast (illustration photo)
Photo: Les Chatfield/Flickr


Who is/are behind the current espionage is still undiscovered. The government’s present mobile data communications encryption is vulnerable. The National Security Authority (NSM) says this is due to a security versus functionality balance.

Only the so-termed AES-256 bit encryption – based on the Rijndael cipher, developed by Belgian cryptographers Joan Daemen and Vincent Rijmen – is 100 per cent secure. 2G, 3G, and 4G are not.

Moreover, as the investigations continue, the average mobile customer can currently do little to guard against information mining.

Green                                          

“2G/3G/4G use different encryption, but with a fake base station taking over the cell phone, it will turn off the encryption anyway. It is possible to capture everything (speech, email, texts) that is only protected by the radio link encryption if you have the right equipment,” says Michael Varming, head of sales for Europe and America at encryption specialists Seccom. AES-256 is Samsung mobile phone (illus. ph.)
Samsung mobile phone (illus. ph.)
Jun Acullador/Flickr
NATO-approved.

According to him, the issue with the Norwegian government’s communications solution choice is that is that speech is secure, “but this has nothing to do with data, which you can get from the phone on 3G and 4G.”

“The problem isn’t only with the Ministers, who have the hardware product for speech, but the rest of the government. The most-used tools like text and emails are not protected, neither for the Ministers, nor other politicians and officials.”

People in Scandinavia are naïve when it comes to what they say when speaking on their mobile.

“Microsoft did a survey regarding this. They found that Norway (Scandinavia) was the most naïve on this issue. The same is true in relation to a crime scene. Personnel use their cell phones,” Mr Varming explains.

A learning process

Prime Minister Erna Solberg has stated that Norway’s government and security authorities are not naïve when it comes to taking precautions and reducing mobile security weaknesses.

The Norwegian Parliament, Oslo
The Norwegian Parliament, Oslo
©2014 Michael Sandelson/The Foreigner
Mr Varming comments that “there’s no point in the Prime Minister saying the government isn’t being naïve: “welcome to Norway”.”

“Moreover, the IMSI Catchers are old news. Implementing new and secure technology is going slowly; the government isn’t taking this issue seriously. In the same way that you need to teach things to a child, you also need to teach grownups regarding what to say and what not to say on their mobiles. That’s just how people are.”

He also thinks that whoever is behind the IMSI Catcher monitoring “is/are not the small guy(s), from reading the paper. It’s more likely to be a government, as this is expensive equipment. No ordinary person does this.”

“Not low to mid-range hardware”

Kim Schliekelmann, managing director of security specialists Seccom, explains how IMSI catchers work. They obtain the mobile subscriber’s IMEI and IMSI numbers.

Every mobile phone has a built-in 15-digit IMEI (International Mobile Station Equipment Identity) number.

A mobile phone
A mobile phone
Andrey Kozachenko/Shutterstock photos
The IMSI (International Mobile Subscriber Identity) is used to identify the user of a cellular network. This unique ID is stored as a 64-bit field and sent by the phone to the network.

“The base stations reveal the device and SIM card serial number, but not the cell phone’s number. Only the network does this,” says Mr Schliekelmann.

So how do interested parties single out people for surveillance?

“One way of doing it is to collect data from different locations. Using the IMEI/IMSI, you crosscheck where the targets are – both where they work, and where they live. This is what the police do when looking for an unknown target and cell phone.”

However, the equipment being used in this case “is probably not high-end, to be honest,” according to him.

“You’d never be able to detect a high-end system, as this is constantly in passive mode. It collects the data, but doesn’t need to take over the phone or send out any signals. Mid-range systems don’t break the encryption. What you do is take the device over via the network and tell it to turn encryption off. The user wouldn’t even notice this happened.”

End-to-end encryption

Both the Police Security Service (PST) and National Security Authority (NSM) have been criticised for passiveness regarding the Oslo IMSI Catcher revelations. But Mr Schliekelmann thinks that neither agency seems concerned, as he believes that “this is because they know this is not a high-level threat.”

The government’s voice traffic solution is tip-top, however.

“They have an additional device they connect to the phone via Bluetooth. This means you can only connect to the other caller if they have the same device. This is used in very sensitive matters, for example,” says Seccom CEO Kim Schliekelmann.

A typical Bluetooth headset
A typical Bluetooth headset
Kocio/Wikimedia Commons
Bluetooth has been criticised for not being secure.

“The Bluetooth encryption is in the headset. This is the same system that encrypts communication between it and the handset, so-termed end-to-end encryption. AES-256 encryption is the industry standard. Nobody has been able to break it or find a backdoor. This has to do with the encryption keys, how you create and handle the encryption keys.”

“There are a few amateur systems out there on the market regarding encryption, but nobody’s verified these. Moreover, services such as Skype and Viber are just communications solutions with encryption added on top. They are not meant to be secure, and there’s always a backdoor in them – at some point in the network, the communication is in plaintext and can be accessed by a 3rd party,” Mr Schliekelmann clarifies.

Conflicting interests

At the same time, IMSI Catchers, or StingRays, as they are known in the US, have raised transparency and civil liberty concerns in several countries.

According to Christopher Soghoian, principle technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union, Norway is fairly transparent regarding law enforcement use of this technology for surveillance in comparison to others.

Police Security Service building (PST)
Police Security Service building (PST)
Hans-Petter Fjeld/Wikimedia Commons
“Only Germany is more so; the parliament gets a report each year revealing how often these devices have been used. In comparison, the authorities in the UK and Canada refuse to acknowledge that they use it,” he says.

So why have the PST/NSM not warned people about the IMSI Catchers?

“There is an inherent conflict between transparency and surveillance. The agencies that use this technology will claim that it only works if the public is kept in the dark regarding its capabilities and how it is used. However, if the public is not warned, then they cannot protect themselves from foreign governments or criminals using the same technology.

Mr Soghoian calls for change in this area. He thinks governments have opted to prioritise their own surveillance needs over the communications security of their citizens for far too long.

What steps can be taken to protect customers, then?

“There’s nothing to prevent a phone being forced from 4G or 3G to 2G, which is not secure. Most mobiles have the option to turn off 4G/3G, but not the latter. Besides, 2G is still in use in rural areas without 4G/3G. The phone manufacturers should give mobile users a software option to turn off 2G. They should have been forced to secure phones with such an option many years ago,” he declares.




Published on Tuesday, 16th December, 2014 at 13:19 under the news category, by Michael Sandelson   .
Last updated on 8th January 2015 at 00:43.

This post has the following tags: spying, imsi, mobiles, politics, espionage, surveillance, paywall.





  
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