The big news in security circles this week is the fact that a security researcher claims to have cracked the encryption used to keep GSM mobile phone calls private
. It looks like he and some collaborators used a brute force method. He admits that it requires about $30,000 worth of equipment to de-crypt calls in real-time, but that's pocket change for many of the folks who would want to make use of this. What's much more interesting (and worrisome) is the GSM Association's (GSMA) response to this news
"This is theoretically possible but practically unlikely," said Claire Cranton, an association spokeswoman. She said no one else had broken the code since its adoption. "What he is doing would be illegal in Britain and the United States. To do this while supposedly being concerned about privacy is beyond me."
There are so many things wrong with that statement it's hard to know where to begin. First, claiming it's "theoretically possible, but practically unlikely" means that it's very, very possible and quite likely. To then say that no one else had broken the code since its adoption fifteen years ago is almost certainly false. What she means is that no one else
who's broken the code has gone public
with it -- probably because it's much more lucrative keeping that info to themselves. Next, blaming the messenger by announcing that cracking the code is "illegal in Britain and the United States" is not what anyone who uses a GSM phone should want to hear. They should want to know how the GSMA is responding
and fixing the problem
-- not how they're responding to the public release
. Finally, if it's "beyond" her why cracking a code used for private conversations and showing that it's insecure is all about being concerned about "privacy" -- she should be looking for a different job. This has everything to do with privacy. The GSMA claims that the code is secure for private conversations, and this group of folks is showing that it is not. That seems to have everything to do with privacy.