More than a year ago, a certain flaw was discovered in the global mobile exchange system, and as reported by CBS’ 60 Minutes, it appears that this vulnerability is still being taken advantage of by hackers in order to gain unauthorized access to wireless data. The flaw specifically exists in Signaling System Seven (SS7), a full set of telephony signaling protocols that channels data between different mobile networks. In order to exploit this flaw, hackers need only get a certain phone number, and they could gain access to phone calls, text messages, and location information.
It was during a convention held in Germany back in 2014 that Karsten Nohl, a security researcher, first demonstrated this particular vulnerability. Nohl works as an advisor in the field of computer security to various Fortune 500 companies, and he showed hack the flaw was exploited by tracking a new iPhone that 60 Minutes handed to United States Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif). Lieu agreed to utilize the handset to contact his staff with the knowledge that it would be hacked. While in Berlin, Germany, Nohl easily was able to make use of the phone number in tracking Lieu’s location in the city of Los Angeles as well as access the US Rep’s phone calls and text messages.
As told by Nohl to CBS, the SS7 vulnerability poses a major risk especially to high ranking corporate executives and even political figures whose phone calls and text messages could be prime targets for hackers. Nohl further elaborates that the ability to hack into phone calls via the SS7 network though is considered an open secret, with some of the world’s top intelligence agencies perhaps not really wanting to fix the SS7 flaw.
Be that as it may, 60 Minutes’ report on the subject has already gotten some attention from Congress. Lieu himself is now calling for a full examination into the SS7 vulnerability, as reported by the Daily Dot. In a letter addressed to the chairman and ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Lieu talked about the potential dangers of the flaw being used by various third parties for criminal and espionage purposes.
Lieu has long been active in matters of cybersecurity, especially when encryption is involved. For instance, in February early this year, he wrote a letter to James Comey, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), arguing that the feds should cease its legal battle with Apple in unlocking an iPhone unit owned by a terrorist involved in last December’s San Bernardino attacks. Also, together with Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas, Lieu also championed ENCRYPT (Ensuring National Constitutional Rights of Your Private Telecommunications) Act of 2016, which proposes to prevent US states from banning encrypted mobile devices.
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