GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) is the standard which more than three billion of us use to speak to one another on our mobile phones. Its ubiquitous, but it is also old and now: fully exploited...
This week 28 year old German computer engineer Karsten Nohl announced he has not only managed to decipher GSM's encryption, but also published the secret code which enables it (the file is in excess of 2TB) onto the Internet. Asked for his motivations behind the move Nohl was forthright.
"This shows that existing GSM security is inadequate," he said at the Chaos Communication Congress, a four-day computer hackers' conference in Berlin. "We are trying to push operators to adopt better security measures for mobile phone calls."
GSM has been broken before, but this is the first time the code itself has been unlocked which opens the way for potentially greater exploitation.
Attempting to downplay the development, GSM spokesperson Claire Cranton said large scale hacking of private phone calls was "theoretically possible but practically unlikely... What he is doing would be illegal in Britain and the United States. To do this while supposedly being concerned about privacy is beyond me."
It isn't beyond us. Widespread campaigning for networks to upgrade their GSM technology has gone on for many years and been largely ignored. Nohl's is a desperate move to force their collective hands. That said, don't start panicking. What Nohl has cracked is the 64bit A5/1 algorithm and there is a newer 128bit A5/3 algorithm in place and already used by about 20 per cent of the market. I suspect this proportion should at last start rising rapidly at. long. last.