New Mobile Network Vulnerabilities Affect All Cellular Generations Since 2G

Researchers have disclosed security vulnerabilities in handover, a fundamental mechanism that undergirds modern cellular networks, which could be exploited by adversaries to launch denial-of-service (DoS) and man-in-the-middle (MitM) attacks using low-cost equipment.

The “vulnerabilities in the handover procedure are not limited to one handover case only but they impact all different handover cases and scenarios that are based on unverified measurement reports and signal strength thresholds,” researchers Evangelos Bitsikas and Christina Pöpper from the New York University Abu Dhabi said in a new paper. “The problem affects all generations since 2G (GSM), remaining unsolved so far.”

Handover, also known as handoff, is a process in telecommunications in which a phone call or a data session is transferred from one cell site (aka base station) to another cell tower without losing connectivity during the transmission. This method is crucial to establishing cellular communications, especially in scenarios when the user is on the move.

The routine typically works as follows: the user equipment (UE) sends signal strength measurements to the network to determine if a handover is necessary and, if so, facilitates the switch when a more suitable target station is discovered.

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