German Hacker Cracks GSM Encryption Code

A German cryptographer and computer engineer has claimed to have decrypted and published the code employed to protect world’s GSM phone calls from unauthorised snooping.

Karsten Nohl, 28, has deciphered the 21-year-old GSM algorithm, which is being used to safeguard 80 percent of the GSM calls across the globe, the New York Times reported.

Proclaiming his success at the Chaos Communication Congress in Berlin, Nohl asserted that he cracked the apparently reliable protection mechanism to expose the weaknesses and loopholes of the system.

The encryption code is tailored to check the interception of GSM phone calls by making the base station and mobile phones to rapidly switch the radio frequencies over the band of 80 distinct channels.

Therefore, without having the knowledge of exact sequence, an interceptor could only have small parts of the entire conversation.

However, Nohl claimed that he, along with his team, has decrypted the algorithm that sets up the random channel hopping, and even machinated a practical way to track entire conversation with the help of an equipment that costs somewhere around $4,000.

Disclosing the weaknesses the existing system has, Nohl said: “This shows that existing G.S.M. security is inadequate. We are trying to push operators to adopt better security measures for mobile phone calls."

Our Comments

Claire Cranton, a spokeswoman for the GSM Association, a London-based organisation that has placed the algorithm, has asserted that Nohl’s attempts were illegal, and that his concerns about the GSM security were simply overstated. Doesn't mean that the guy did not manage to crack the code though.

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