A hacker has conducted a demonstration on how to intercept mobile phone calls using equipment that costs no more than $1500. This show-and-tell session took place in front of more than a thousand people at a DefCon conference in Las Vegas, and as an added bonus – he didn’t even get arrested.
While scanning mobile phone calls is not unknown in some circles, and the interceptors used are even available for purchase in Canada and England, the method used in this demonstration was quite advanced in respect to the cost of the technology involved. Chris Paget was the man in the hot seat, saying somewhat proudly that “I can intercept cell phone calls with 1,500 dollars worth of radio gear and a laptop”.
With the use of a simple antenna and some basic radio equipment, Chris Paget demonstrated how he could broadcast a GSM signal and pretend to be a telecom service provider. Once this clever trick has taken place, it is then possible for a hacker to forward their own calls and listen in on practically any conversation that takes place within a specific network.
While this demonstration used a method that is limited to GSM networks, Paget then went on to describe just how easy it would be to also cause disruption to 3G mobile networks. Through the use of a simple noise generator and a power amplifier, Paget claims that 3G networks could easily be jammed, in which case most of them resort back to GSM networks – which is where we began.
While some people were calling for his arrest prior to the demonstration, and even Chris himself was a little nervous about this possibility, it seems the US Federal Communications Commission decided to take it easy on him. After all, despite the undeniable damage that technology like this can cause, it is people like Chris Paget who are likely to be leading the way in mobile security in future years.
When it comes to technology, only those who can break it really have any chance of coming up with new and innovative ways to put it together again. It wouldn’t surprise me if Mr Paget found himself with a few job offers from both federal and commercial security enterprises following his DefCon demonstration.