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Your phone calls and SMS messages aren't secure

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment
Image by  Matthew Hurst  used under Creative Commons License

Image by Matthew Hurst used under Creative Commons License

In the above 2015 presentation, security researchers broke the secrecy around a protocol called SS7 and explained how a technically proficient user can "break it" and easily compromise your mobile phone call data and text messages. Seeing an opportunity, 60 minutes produced a popular segment  that scared viewers and I still receive emails from readers asking if this is "a real thing".

Let's take a look at this together.

What is SS7?

SS7 is short for Signalling System 7 and is a carrier interconnect technology that allows one mobile carrier to connect to another and send calls and SMS to each other. It allows allows you to roam on another carrier's network when travelling. It is an old (1975) technology developed before the world went security crazy and thus is has much more basic security built in.

What can hacker access?

A skilled hacker can use SS7 to gain a huge amount of insight into the victims use of a mobile device. It will allow him (masculine being used for simplicity) to listen in on phone calls, forward phone calls, collect call metadata, ability to intercept SMS messages and ability to track the phone. 

Think of all sites using SMS as a second factor authentication tool. Any bank, social network or other site using SMS to authenticate users are jeopardizing your security. Always choose another authentication option (other than SMS).

No one would be surprised if a government performed these types of tracking activities but SS7 makes it possible for anyone to do this.

Am I vulnerable to the SS7 hack?

Anyone using a smartphone (anywhere in the world) is vulnerable to the SS7 hack when using traditional mobile phone service (phone calls, SMS messages, etc), 

How can I protect myself from the SS7 hack?

If you don't use traditional mobile phone services, your information can't be hacked with SS7. The only way to protect yourself is to use alternatives (which in most cases are better anyway).

As an example, instead of sensing plain SMS messages, you an encrypted messaging service like WhatsApp, Apple Messages, Google Hangouts/Allo, or any other encrypted messenger. To be clear, each of these has its own security issues which can lead to compromise but they are immune to the SS7 attack. 

What about phone calls you ask? Many of the above text messaging alternatives also provide voice calling services which would also be immune to SS7 hacking because they use an encrypted data channel instead of the traditional mobile phone voice system. My favorite encrypted calling app is still Signal (which was even endorsed by Edward Snowden).

Preventing phone location tracking is more complicated. Anytime your phone is on, a network operator can track your location using triangulation. The only option here is to turn it off and maybe even store it in a Faraday cage bag (like the ShieldSak which I will review). A less abrupt technique (good but not perfect) is to turn off connectivity to the mobile network and only use WIFI.

Canadian Wireless Code applies to corporate wireless service plans (sometimes)

technologyEdward KiledjianComment
Image by  Perry McKenna  used under Creative Commons License

Image by Perry McKenna used under Creative Commons License


Telus asked the CRTC for clarifications about the applicability of the CRTC Wireless Code to corporate business customers and plans. The CRTC released its decision in October 2014 and the gist of it is that it :

applies to retail mobile wireless voice and data services provided to individuals and small businesses. This means that it applies to all wireless plans for such services where the contract is between (a) an individual and a service provider, or (b) a small business and a service provider.

If an individual is responsible for part or all of the mobile invoice then the wireless code applies (even for employee purchase plan deals). If the plan is owned  and paid by a large corporation then the code does not apply and a 3 year agreement can be entered into.

You can read the CRTC decision here (Link).

 

Telus CEO is paid in shares not cash

BusinessEdward KiledjianComment
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Nothing says confidence in oneself and ones company more than a CEO heavily compensated in company shares.  The President and CEO of Telus, Darren Entwistle,  will once again be paid in shares rather than cash (5th year in a row).

In a recent press release it states that Mr Entwistle is agreement to share only compensation because of his confidence in Telus' short, medium and long term performance. It also shows a clear alignment between his personal priorities and those of his Telus shareholders. 

I personally believe this is an incredible move and hope other CEO's will follow his example. If the company does well, you do well. If the company does poorly, you do poorly. This is a model that incentivizes the right behavior.

Telus Press Release (link)

Canadian 2500 Mhz auction begins April 2015

technologyEdward KiledjianComment
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The Canadian Minister of Industry, the honourable James Moore, has made it official that Canada's 2500 Mhz auction will take place April 14 2015 and applications from interested parties must be received by November 27 2014.

The minister reiterated that he would like to see increased competition in the Canadian wireless market and as such will adopt the same auction principles as that being used for the 700Mhz bands beings auctioned this year.

The minister will implement spectrum caps to ensure at least 4 different providers win parts of the 2500 Mhz spectrum thus ensuring competition. 

Marketwire