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15 May 2009, 08:41

Bonn security congress awards prize for contribution to mobile manipulation

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At the 11th German IT Security Conference in Bonn, the German Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) has bestowed its Best Student Award on Benedikt Heinz of Munich Technical University. He has won a three-month research post at the Royal Holloway, University of London, for his contribution, "SIM application toolkit-based attack on mobile terminals by manipulating SIM card hardware".

In his paper, Heinz describes how mobile phones, regardless of their manufacturer, can be bugged and monitored by connecting a micro-controller between the phone and the SIM (Subscriber Identity Module). Heinz says installing the micro-controller on a phone takes an attacker just five to ten minutes. The micro-controller can then eavesdrop on all the data exchanged between the SIM and the terminal, including the PIN, phone-book entries, call lists and SMSs and the attacker can request the mobile's location data at any time.

A SIM card can send commands to the phone via the SIM Application Toolkit (SAT), which is used by network operators, for example, to display operator-specific menus on the phone. SAT commands such as SEND SHORT MESSAGE and CALL CONTROL allow the micro-controller, among other things, to send SMSs containing intercepted information, or to divert all a user's conversations invisibly through a call centre. As a possible countermeasure Heinz suggests sealing the case of the phone so it cannot be opened easily.


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