Cellphone encryption code cracked: eavesdroppers rejoice

I do so like that weird period between Christmas and New Year — 2009 still isn't through and we're already getting end-of-the-world stories. A 22-year-old algorithm that encrypts cellphone conversations has been cracked by a German computer scientist. Karsten Nohl claims that he, along with five other experts, recently broke the secret code that keeps cellphone calls private. Announcing the breakthrough at the Chaos Communication Congress in Berlin, Nohl claimed he'd done it as a way of highlighting the lack of security on the GSM network, used by four billion people.

Using networks of computers, Mr Nohl and his band of merry hackers crackers crunched through trillions of input and output possibilities in order to find the encryption code, the A5/1 algorithm. Known to be flawed, (the first serious weaknesses were exposed 15 years ago), the code forces cellphones and base stations to flick between radio frequencies over a spectrum of 80 channels.

The GSM Association professes itself to be less than pleased by Mr Nohl's handiwork, claiming it to be "highly illegal" (naturally, Mr Nohl claims he consulted lawyers prior to the announcement, who claimed that his work was all above board.) Anyway, there is now, probably in a safe somewhere, a mahoosive table "like a telephone book" that can, with the aid of a gaming computer and 3,000 bucks' worth of radio equipment, give you the encryption key needed to decipher the SMS or conversation.

Via BBC News

(Image D Sharon Pruitt, from Flickr)