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  1. Motherboard has identified a specific UK bank that has fallen victim to so-called SS7 attacks, and sources say the issue is wider than previously reported. Sophisticated hackers have long exploited flaws in SS7, a protocol used by telecom companies to coordinate how they route texts and calls around the world. Those who exploit SS7 can potentially track phones across the other side of the planet, and intercept text messages and phone calls without hacking the phone itself. This activity was typically only within reach of intelligence agencies or surveillance contractors, but now Motherboard has confirmed that this capability is much more widely available in the hands of financially-driven cybercriminal groups, who are using it to empty bank accounts. So-called SS7 attacks against banks are, although still relatively rare, much more prevalent than previously reported. Motherboard has identified a specific bank—the UK's Metro Bank—that fell victim to such an attack. The news highlights the gaping holes in the world’s telecommunications infrastructure that the telco industry has known about for years despite ongoing attacks from criminals. The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), the defensive arm of the UK’s signals intelligence agency GCHQ, confirmed that SS7 is being used to intercept codes used for banking. "We are aware of a known telecommunications vulnerability being exploited to target bank accounts by intercepting SMS text messages used as 2-Factor Authentication (2FA)," the NCSC told Motherboard in a statement. “Some of our clients in the banking industry or other financial services; they see more and more SS7-based [requests],” Karsten Nohl, a researcher from Security Research Labs who has worked on SS7 for years, told Motherboard in a phone call. “All of a sudden you have someone’s text messages.” Metro Bank, which launched in 2010, confirmed it had faced an SS7 attack, and said in a statement it has supported a law enforcement investigation into SS7 attacks across the industry. “At Metro Bank we take our customers’ security extremely seriously and have a comprehensive range of safeguards in place to help protect them against fraud. We have supported telecommunication companies and law enforcement authorities with an industry-wide investigation and understand that steps have been taken to resolve the issue,” a Metro Bank spokesperson told Motherboard in an email. “Of those customers impacted by this type of fraud, an extremely small number have been Metro Bank customers and none have been left out of pocket as a result. Customers should continue to remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity using the number on the back of their card or on our website,” the statement added. UK Finance, a trade association for UK banks, told Motherboard in a statement that “The protection of customer accounts is an absolute priority for the industry. We are aware of reports of a small number of incidents and understand that immediate steps were taken by the relevant telecommunication bodies to resolve the issue.” Metro Bank is a member of UK Finance. Major UK telco BT told Motherboard in a statement, “We’re aware of the potential of SS7 to be used to try to commit banking fraud. Customer security is our top priority so we’re always upgrading our systems and working with the industry and banks to help protect our customers.” This statement also applies to the telco EE, which is part of BT, the spokesperson added. A Vodafone spokesperson told Motherboard in a statement, "We have specific security measures in place to protect our customers against SS7 vulnerabilities that have been deployed over the last few years, and we have no evidence to suggest that Vodafone customers have been affected. Vodafone is working closely with GSMA, banks and security experts on this issue." The GSMA is a trade group that represents mobile network operators. O2 and TalkTalk did not provide statements in time for publication. Source
  2. Snowden Leaks Reveal NSA Snooped On In-Flight Mobile Calls NSA, GCHQ intercepted signals as they were sent from satellites to ground stations. GCHQ and the NSA have spied on air passengers using in-flight GSM mobile services for years, newly-published documents originally obtained by Edward Snowden reveal. Technology from UK company AeroMobile and SitaOnAir is used by dozens of airlines to provide in-flight connectivity, including by British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Lufthansa, and many Arab and Asian companies. Passengers connect to on-board GSM servers, which then communicate with satellites operated by British firm Inmarsat. "The use of GSM in-flight analysis can help identify the travel of a target—not to mention the other mobile devices (and potentially individuals) onboard the same plane with them," says a 2010 NSA newsletter. A presentation, made available by the Intercept, contains details of GCHQ's so-called "Thieving Magpie" programme. GCHQ and the NSA intercepted the signals as they were sent from the satellites to the ground stations that hooked into the terrestrial GSM network. Initially, coverage was restricted to flights in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, but the surveillance programme was expected to go global at the time the presentation was made. GCHQ's Thieving Magpie presentation explains how in-flight mobile works. Ars has asked these three companies to comment on the extent to which they were aware of the spying, and whether they are able to improve security for their users to mitigate its effects, but was yet to receive replies from Inmarsat or AeroMobile at time of publication. A SitaOnAir spokesperson told Ars in an e-mail: The Thieving Magpie presentation explains that it is not necessary for calls to be made, or data to be sent, for surveillance to take place. If the phone is switched on, and registers with the in-flight GSM service, it can be tracked provided the plane is flying high enough that ground stations are out of reach. The data, we're told, was collected in "near real time," thus enabling "surveillance or arrest teams to be put in place in advance" to meet the plane when it lands. Using this system, aircraft can be tracked every two minutes while in flight. If data is sent via the GSM network, GCHQ's presentation says that e-mail addresses, Facebook IDs, and Skype addresses can all be gathered. Online services observed by GCHQ using its airborne surveillance include Twitter, Google Maps, VoIP, and BitTorrent. Meanwhile, Le Monde reported that "GCHQ could even, remotely, interfere with the working of the phone; as a result the user was forced to redial using his or her access codes." No source is given for that information, which presumably is found in other Snowden documents, not yet published. As the French newspaper also points out, judging by the information provided by Snowden, the NSA seemed to have something of a fixation with Air France flights. Apparently that was because "the CIA considered that Air France and Air Mexico flights were potential targets for terrorists." GCHQ shared that focus: the Thieving Magpie presentation uses aircraft bearing Air France livery to illustrate how in-flight GSM services work. Ars asked the UK's spies to comment on the latest revelations, and received the usual boilerplate response from a GCHQ spokesperson: It is longstanding policy that we do not comment on intelligence matters. So that's OK, then. Source
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