Hackers break into GSM network, can listen to your phone calls

Hackers have broken into the mobile phone GSM network and can now eavesdrop on your calls using dirt cheap handsets, according to security researchers at the Chaos Computer Club Congress.

Two researchers, Karsten Nohl and Sylvain Munaut, showed off a toolkit they developed over the last year for getting access to other people’s calls. 

They were able to demonstrate how they could locate and seize a uniquely identified phone, along with intercepting call and text data sent from the phone to the base station.

A vital part of the process is using cheap Motorola phones, costing only €10 ($13) which can have their firmware replaced by an unfiltered open source alternative, the duo told the BBC. This new firmware allows the user to see all of the data being broadcast from a base station.

The ability to make this attack requires intimate knowledge of the technology and software involved, preventing an Average Joe from spying on his neighbours, but there are some concerns raised about the ability to target a unique phone, which could lead to eavesdropping on high-profile targets, such as politicians and celebrities.

The toolkit will not be released to the public, but it’s likely that hackers will figure out the missing pieces of the puzzles for themselves. Mobile operators were prompted to improve their security to combat the gaping hole in their networks.

With an estimated five billion GSM mobile phones in the world, that’s a lot of phone calls that are now at risk. If only Coulson had known.