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LTE Network Automation Under Threat

Conference:  BlackHat USA 2018

2018-08-08

Summary

The talk discusses the vulnerabilities and consequences of operating a rogue base station in an automated 4G/LTE network and suggests mitigations from the mobile network operators perspective.
  • Introduction to 4G/LTE and automated operations in mobile networks
  • Exploitation of vulnerabilities in 4G/LTE mobile phones and SON protocols to inject malicious packets into the network
  • Demonstration of three types of denial of service attacks and their impact
  • Status of vulnerabilities and with whom they are closed
  • Mitigations and takeaways for mobile network operators
The speaker and his colleague shifted their focus from mobile devices to base stations and network automation. They discovered vulnerabilities in the automated operations of mobile networks and demonstrated several attacks against the network. They suggest that mobile network operators should verify the information received from different areas and base network decisions on several parameters, not just a cell ID. They also suggest creating authentication of broadcast messages and adding intelligence to self-organizing networks. The speaker emphasizes the importance of having self-organizing networks ready to handle 5G networks and the need to fix vulnerabilities in mobile networks.

Abstract

The control and management of mobile networks is shifting from manual to automatic in order to boost performance and efficiency and reduce expenditures. Especially, base stations in today's 4G/LTE networks can automatically configure and operate themselves which is technically referred to as Self Organizing Networks (SON). Additionally, they can auto-tune themselves by learning from their surrounding base stations. This talk inspects the consequences of operating a rogue base station in an automated 4G/LTE network. We exploit the weaknesses we discovered in 4G/LTE mobile phones and SON protocols to inject malicious packets into the network. We demonstrate several attacks against the network and discuss mitigation from the mobile network operators perspective.

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