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GSM Encryption Broken

By Dan Hadaway | Wednesday, December 30, 2009 - Leave a Comment

A German computer engineer, Karsten Nohl, has deciphered and published the secret code used to encrypt most of the world’s digital mobile phone calls.

The now aged 64-bit G.S.M (global system for mobile communication) encryption introduced in 1988 is still providing protection for 80% of mobile calls worldwide. An upgraded 128-bit encryption was developed and officially introduced in 2007 but is currently only used on newer third-generation networks.

Although this alone does not enable surveillance of mobile phone calls due to the heavy numbers of callers and up to 60 different frequencies G.S.M uses at any given time to complete a call, what it will do according to Simon Bransfield-Garth, the chief executive of Cellcrypt, a company based in London that sells similar software, “This will reduce the time to break a G.S.M call from weeks to hours […] We expect as this further develops it will be reduced to minutes.”

Mr. Nohl says his intent is to spotlight weaknesses in the 21-year old encryption scheme still used worldwide. Let’s see if the mobile communication companies take notice.


Michael Hartke

Data Security Analyst

Infotex, Inc.

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