Cyberwarfare Magazine

Warfare in the Information Age

ENISA releases list of mobile phones vulnerabilities

with 2 comments

The European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA) release a paper about general vulnerabilities that is affecting or will affect mobile communications. The organization surveyed experts via different medias to gather concerns from the industry about the future of wireless communications. The document discusses security issues about three different types of devices, each using wireless mechanism: mobile devices, contactless cards and smart cards.

Mobiles phones

The paper mentions two possible vulnerabilities on mobiles, which one of them is rather obvious and really didn’t need to be detailed:

  • Theft or Loss of device
  • Untrustworthy Interface

Since a lot of information is store on cells phones and other devices, theft can be a security issue, especially if used in a commercial/governmental context. Since mobiles devices are called to be

Untrustworthy interface refers to any exploits, worms or social engineering that usually affects computers. After all, mobiles use operating systems like any computer such as Android, Windows Mobile, Symbian OS, Linux or iPhone OS

Untrustworthy interface refers to any exploits, worms or social engineering that usually affects computers. After all, mobiles use operating systems like any computer such as Android, Windows Mobile, Symbian OS, Linux or iPhone OS

used for more and more uses, such as purchasing items and services as it’s actually done in Japan, theft will be a problem. As far as I know, not much can be done to prevent mobiles from being stolen except caution. On the other hand, encryption and authentification should be use to protect data stored inside the device.

Untrustworthy interface refers to any exploits, worms or social engineering that usually affects computers. After all, mobiles use operating systems like any computer such as Android, Windows Mobile, Symbian OS, Linux or iPhone OS. None of the OS can pretend to be 100% secure, and none should ever do either. For those who think that such things doesn’t happen on phones, here are a couple of example that might change your mind:

Last year, at the Black Hat conference which took place August 2nd, an attack against the iPhone was carried out by a team at the Independent Security Evaluators security company[1]. By setting up a fake access point with the same SSID and encryption type that an access point previously used by the user, one could use the fake access point to add malicious code to websites requested by the user[2].

At the beginning of the year, Symbian OS was victim of another worm, called Beselo that spread itself by harvesting contacts and sending MMS with a SIS attachment disguised as a picture or mp3 file[3].

In October, Google’s Android shipped with an outdated version of the WebKit package, which could allowed an attacker to steal saved passwords and cookies by crafting a malicious website[4].

Do I even need to give examples for the Windows Mobile OS? If yes, then the ones who come in mind what the one found by Collin Mulliner a while ago and disclosed at the 23rd CCC[5]

As mobile phones become more and more computers, exploiting cell phones will become more and more common.

Smart Cards

The paper mention specifically two issues concerning smart cards:

  • Physical Attacks
  • Side Channel Attacks

Physical attacks consist of studying the underlying hardware in order to reverse-engineer it:

“These kinds of attacks are usually invasive, eg, rewiring a circuit on the chip or using probing pins to monitor data flows. Physical attacks include altering the environment around the card, such as temperature or radiation, in order to induce faults. The goal of the attacker is to bypass security mechanisms and gain secret information stored on the card. In general, modern smart cards are quite resistant to physical attacks. Nevertheless, there have been a number of reverse-engineering attacks in attempts to retrieve private keys or find flaws in the hardware design.[6]

This usually involves a lot of different techniques and lots of time. Concrete examples of applying a physical attack on smart cards could go back to 2002, when two researchers from Cambridge University discovered they could extract data from smart cards by using a camera flash. Without forgetting that modern smart cards are often programmed with a subset of Java, therefore open to programming errors and exploit[7].

Side-Channels attacks are way touchier as they imply retrieving information from the card by analysing physical properties such as power consumption, radiation and signals duration to steal data from the card[8]. Using side-channel attacks can lead to the gathering of sensible information about the implementation of a cryptographic algorithm:

One of the most successful side-channel attacks exploits the correlation between the power consumption of a given device and the data being processed. These Power Analysis Attacks have particular relevance since for some of them, no knowledge regarding the implementation of the target device is needed in order to be effective.[9]

Contactless Cards

  • Skimming
  • Eavesdropping
  • Tracking
  • Relay Attack
  • Falsification of Content
A brilliant example of a skimming attack was the work done in the now infamous Oyster card case

A brilliant example of a skimming attack was the work done in the now infamous Oyster card case

A brilliant example of a skimming attack was the work done in the now infamous Oyster card case[10]. After reverse-engineering the MIFARE contactless card[11] by using acid to remove the plastic and studying the architecture of the hardware used in the card, the encryption algorithm was understood and could be cracked. In order for the hack to work, the attacker needs to skim the victim Oyster card by building a custom reader.

The last attack that I will shortly describe in this article is the relay attack as the others are well known. The relay attack is simply a man-in-the-middle attack, that will send data skimmed from a card to a reader by using a middle attacker relay.

The document also states two other vulnerabilites, which could be applied to various types of devices actually: cryptanalytic attacks and man-in-the-middle attacks (see Cyber-Espionage : The Triggerfish for an example of cell phone man-in-the-middle attack).

The paper also goes on with various use-case scenarios of these attacks for your reading pleasure.

See also:

Security Issues of Authentication Using Mobile Devices”, Ingo Naumann, Giles Hogben, November 21, 2008, http://www.enisa.europa.eu/doc/pdf/deliverables/enisa_pp_mobile_eid.pdf (accessed on December 3, 2008)

PocketPC Security Research“, Collin Mulliner, July 9, 2007, http://mulliner.org/pocketpc/ (accessed on December 3, 2008)

Optical Fault Induction Attacks“, Sergei P. Skorobogatov, Ross J. Anderson, University of Cambridge, http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/~sps32/ches02-optofault.pdf (accessed on December 3, 2008)

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[1] “IPhone Flaw Lets Hackers Take Over, Security Firm Says”, John Schwartz, The New York Times, July 23, 2007, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/23/technology/23iphone.html?_r=1 (accessed on December 3, 12)

[2] “Exploiting the iPhone”, Independent Security Evaluators, 2007, http://securityevaluators.com/content/case-studies/iphone/ (accessed on December 3, 2008)

[3] “Fortinet: Symbian OS worm spreading in mobile networks”, Jack Rogers, SC Magazine, January 23. 2008, http://www.scmagazineus.com/Fortinet-Symbian-OS-worm-spreading-in-mobile-networks/article/104452/ (accessed on December 3, 2008)

[4] “Vulnerability patched in Google’s Android-powered phone”, Angela Moscaritolo, November 03, 2008, http://www.scmagazineus.com/Vulnerability-patched-in-Googles-Android-powered-phone/article/120322/ (accessed on December 3, 2008)

[5] “How to Exploit A Windows Mobile Handset”, Sergiu Gatlan, January 4, 2007, http://news.softpedia.com/news/How-to-Exploit-A-Windows-Mobile-Handset-43621.shtml (accessed on December 3, 2008)

[6] “Security Issues of Authentication Using Mobile Devices”, Ingo Naumann, Giles Hogben, November 21, 2008, p.10

[7] “Smart Card Security from a Programming Language and Static Analysis Perspective”, Xavier Leroy, INRIA Rocquencourt, Trusted Logic, 2003, http://pauillac.inria.fr/~xleroy/talks/language-security-etaps03.pdf (accessed on December 3, 2008)

[8] “Security Issues of Authentication Using Mobile Devices”, Ingo Naumann, Giles Hogben, November 21, 2008, p.10

[9] “Power Attacks Resistance of Cryptographic S-boxes with added Error Detection Circuits”, Francesco Regazzoni, Thomas Eisenbarth, Johann Großschädl, Luca Breveglieri, Paolo Ienne, Israel Koren, Christof Paar, University of Lugano, 2007, http://www.crypto.rub.de/imperia/md/content/texte/publications/conferences/dftsrome2007cameraready.pdf (accessed on December 3, 2008)

[10] “Oyster card hack published, released at security conference”, Nicholas Deleon, CrunchGear, October 7, 2008, http://www.crunchgear.com/2008/10/07/oyster-card-hack-published-released-at-security-conference/ (accessed on December 3, 2008)

[11] “Dismantling MIFARE Classic”, Flavio D. Garcia, Gerhard de Koning Gans, Ruben Muijrers,Peter van Rossum, Roel Verdult, Ronny Wichers Schreur, Bart Jacobs, Radboud University Nijmegen, 2008, http://www.sos.cs.ru.nl/applications/rfid/2008-esorics.pdf (accessed on December 3, 2008)

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2 Responses

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  1. i love mobile phones that can surf the net in lightning fast speed~”*

    Polypropylene :

    October 29, 2010 at 6:42 pm

  2. Advice please. Whilst about to send a text to someone from a samsung s2 mobile -a private message- i think intended for the recipient of my message suddenly appeared in my message (to send ) box. Who can advise if that’s possible?

    Mike Davies

    October 8, 2012 at 9:13 am


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