Depending on where you live or work, you’ve probably experienced problems with cellphone coverage for one or more carriers, usually due to your geographical (lack of) proximity to a cell tower, or courtesy of construction materials like concrete, lead and steel in between you and your signal. Thanks to the advent of widely available broadband, cellular providers have been able to build small devices called femtocells that can be connected to your internet connection and will significantly improve cellular signal for a specific carrier in a limited range.
While seen as a godsend for the cell-strength deficient, we also now have to regard them as a security risk, thanks to research performed by analysts at iSEC Partners who have allegedly hacked a Verizon network extender to allow them to eavesdrop on any phone call, text message or other information transmitted from the phone through the compromised femtocell. The researchers plan to publicize their findings at the upcoming Black Hat Conference in August, but have declined to share details for obvious security reasons.
What this means for you:
Unfortunately, you can’t tell your cellphone what radio signal source to use. It’s designed to look for the strongest signal and use it. The iSEC researchers claim it would be trivial to build a portable and unobtrusive hacked network extender and place it in a strategic location to capture confidential calls. If you are in the business of confidential information, you probably already know not to take sensitive calls where ever you might be overheard, and if you are a well-informed adult, you probably already know that the NSA could eavesdrop on your conversation regardless of what cell tower was handling your call. But now we are talking about a commercially available device that is cheap, portable, and apparently, hackable. As before, consider carefully the medium you choose for the delivery of your sensitive information, and when in doubt, err on the side of caution rather than convenience.
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