Using your smartphone for bank transactions, e-mails, messages, phone calls and web searches have become quite normal and essential for us these days, don’t you think so? Some of you might even be going through this article via your smartphone. Your number might also be linked to so many services offered online. We all receive messages on our phones from different organizations and service providers seeking our attention, advertising their products and programs. Imagine what could happen if all the contacts saved on your smartphone received messages from your number asking for money or any other help, without your knowledge… Imagine your bank account/s getting emptied because the authentication was approved from your phone but not by you…
Imagine hackers pretending to be you and using your smartphone as if it’s their own. A bit scary, isn’t it?
China’s leading security company- 360 Technology has been working closely with the Unicorn Team researchers regarding this very issue adn have come up with a name for this: “Ghost Telephonist”. They discovered that they could hack phones when they switched from modern LTE wireless networks (4G) to older, slower 2G technology. Our phones do this all the time when the signal is weak, although we may not have noticed when it happens. Usually, a phone is required to send authentication codes when connecting to any network to prove its identity as the device that houses your number. However, when a phone switches from a 4G LTE network to a lower 2G network, this authentication is not required. At the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas on Thursday, the team revealed that this gives hackers a window to get the victim’s phone number and make calls, send messages, gain access to online accounts and more through their own handsets. This Ghost Telephonist attack can be executed in a span of 60 seconds.
How is it possible in a matter of mere seconds, you ask? The hack works this way because when our phones switch between the available network technologies, they always rush to keep a connection running and stable. In this very process, the authentication step is kipped entirely and hence creating a window for the hackers, said Lin Huang, one of the researchers on the team.
There is more to this.
The scariest thing that has been put forward by the researchers is that, if a hacker successfully takes over our phone number, we may never notice it. After taking over our phone number, hackers could use it on their own devices to gain access to our online accounts and all other linked resources.
At the Black Hat security conference, the security research team presented a scenario where they requested to reset a password by phone on Facebook. Facebook automatically sent a text message to the phone number which had been hijacked by the Unicorn team and intercepted the text on their clone of the user’s number and took over the social network account.
The Unicorn team is presenting its findings and informing all concerned network providers about the vulnerability and depth of the situation so that they can work on the authentication issue while the networks switch from 4G to 2G. The team has recommended modification of the authentication process or switching over to more secure technologies.
According to what Huang said, currently, the only way to block Ghost Telephonist is to switch your phone to Airplane mode. “If you are in airplane mode, that means your phone already told the network, ‘I’m offline,'” she said.