Terrorists Can Take Down An Entire City's 4G Network For Just $650

According to a critical document filed with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration in the US, you can take down any LTE network with a simple $US650 piece of gear.

Every mobile phone grid is vulnerable to this technique, including FirstNet, the emergency communications network designed after 9/11. According to the authors, "it's relatively easy to do" by anyone. In fact, if a terrorist group spent just a bit more on a cheap, readily available power amplifier, it could take down a region as large as New York State.

The paper, by Jeff Reed — director of the wireless research group at Virginia Tech — and research assistant Marc Lichtman, says that it would be hard to defend against such an attack. The problem, they say, relates to structural, intrinsic vulnerabilities to the LTE architecture.

According to Lichtman, there are eight distinct ways to take down an LTE network, easily be exploited by anyone with basic communications engineering skills:

Your phone is constantly syncing with the base station. If you can disrupt that synchronisation, you will not be able to send or receive data. There are multiple weak spots-about eight different attacks are possible. The LTE signal is very complex, made up of many subsystems, and in each case, if you take out one subsystem, you take out the entire base station. Any communications engineer would be able to figure this stuff out.

The NTIA and the big telecommunication providers haven't reacted to the paper yet. The good news is that the existing 3G and 2G grids would still work in such a scenario. However, as we are increasingly dependent on higher data rates and migrating to faster and better networks, such structural problems are worrying. Extremely worrying, in fact: by 2018, half of the world's population will run on LTE, and new devices — some of them critical, in the medical and transportation industries — will be based solely on this standard.

The worst part: LTE has been proposed for the new communication system for emergency response. Called FirstNet, it was designed after the many communications problems experienced by first response teams during 9/11. Just imagine the picture: terrorists first attacking a major target and then jamming the communication network used by the emergency forces trying to help. According to Reed, this is specifically what can happen.

And there doesn't seem to be a fix right now. This is an systems architecture problem, according to Reed, one that would take a massive rethinking to prevent:

LTE does a good job of [encrypting the communications]. But unconventional security aspects, such as preventing signal jamming, have been largely overlooked.

Not good. Not good at all. [Technology Review via Technology Review]



    Er thanks for letting Osama bin terrorist know that vital info Lichtman. It does make me wonder sometimes whether these little snippets of info are actually fed into the ecosphere on purpose anyway. I'll put my tin hat on.

    Oh no, the terrorists have taken my super fast LTE! THERE IS NO MORE REASON TO LIVE!!!

      you might have to wait till you get home to use facebook! ALL IS LOST!

        NOOOOO! How will I 'like' all my friends anti-religion pictures now!!!!

    Eh, well, its not the end of the world... at least we'll still have tincans on strings....

    Last edited 16/11/12 2:32 pm

    Um care factor? emergency service and voice traffic is sent over 3G. So aside from 15 year old girls not being able to put photos of their lunch on facebook and 15 year old boys not being able to surf for porn at lunch, where is the problem?

      Did you not see the part where they are considering moving emergency services to LTE as well?

    Terrorists can take down 2 entire buildings, the stock exchange and kill thousands with plastic knifes and a plane ticket.

    Maybe this will make the US re-think their exclusion of huawei tech from their systems...

    Remember to eat all your veggies Jesus, or the terrorists have won.

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