July 26, 2013

SIM Card Hack Causes Major Headaches for Business

More than 20 years after its initial inception, the SIM card has been hacked. A German cryptographer named Karsten Nohl will be presenting findings to that effect at the annual Black Hat computer security conference at the end of the month.

Karsten Nohl was able to spoof a text message from the cellphone provider on various phones and receive an error message in return.  The error message contained all the information needed to spoof the SIM card of that particular phone.  The impact of hacked SIM cards, one of the few stalwarts in the high-tech industry that has not seen a serious exploit, could be monumental. While some seven billion SIM cards are in use today, Nohl estimated that roughly half a billion mobile devices worldwide would currently be vulnerable to this type of attack.

SIM cards can be updated invisibly over the air by network operators, but that poses a secondary problem. Because users have no visibility into whether their phones are vulnerable to the attack or not, wireless customers won’t know whether or not their devices are safe.

For individual consumers, having someone hijack your phone and breach your privacy by listening to your phone calls or reading your messages is bad enough.

Now imagine if you’re a business.  Business data continually moves from the desktop to mobile devices, even your average employees are finding themselves walking around with sensitive company data on their devices. Lost and stolen phones have become an epidemic for the corporate world, and solutions to this dilemma have been unbearably slow in presenting themselves.  Mobile device management solutions have provided us with a way to protect ourselves from that type of scenario.

Let’s say a business does take steps to secure its handsets and ensure that SIM cards are properly patched and safe from attack. Even if businesses correct company-owned devices, plenty of risks are sure to remain, thanks to the rise of BYOD (bring your own device) programs. BYOD, for the uninitiated, is the policy of allowing employees to use their own phone or tablet for work.

Finally, as mobile commerce becomes increasingly popular, this opens up another avenue where businesses could face financial loss. Hackers could in theory redirect payments or change the amounts involved, potentially leaving merchants high and dry at the end of a transaction.