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Can you hack me now?

Sep 13, 20184 mins
HackingNetwork SecuritySecurity

How identity-based networking can protect your LTE connections from attack.

cellphone tower
Credit: Thinkstock

“Can you hear me now?”

With well over 200,000 cell towers up and running in the United States (and counting), the question posed by Verizon in a wildly successful 2011 ad campaign, has been answered in the affirmative for the overwhelming majority of the country. But in the wake of a new, super connected wireless world, some other questions have emerged:

How secure is all that wireless coverage?

What types of attack loopholes, if any, exist?

Are the wireless carriers favoring supreme accessibility too greatly over commonsense security, which is essentially the same oversight made by the Internet’s founding fathers many years ago? That oversight unknowingly paved the way for the current state of today’s networking world, which is wrought with data breaches, device corruption, and system downtime… Let’s not make that same mistake again.

A recent finding by security experts at Ruhr-Universität Bochum and New York University Abu Dhabi have determined that the wireless networks we use without hesitation, are potentially quite vulnerable to attack from hackers all over the globe.

aLTEr Attacks 4G LTE Networks

Perhaps the most alarming cause for concern discovered by these researchers is a DNS spoofing attack known as the aLTEr attack. In this case, the bad actor pretends to be one of those 200,000-plus cell towers to the user, while simultaneously posing as the user to the wireless network. It’s a classic man-in-the-middle (MitM) hack. From this double-agent sort of role played by the bad actor, a user’s wireless activities can be intercepted and misdirected to malicious websites anywhere in cyberspace.

Adding insult to injury for most users, is the false sense of security they experience when using 4G LTE networks. That naivety is completely understandable, however, because just about any wireless carrier—big and small—will boast about the alleged “top-notch security” they’ve implemented to safeguard their networks.

Here’s the problem: the aLTEr attack was successfully executed on a supposedly “secure” wireless network. The reason is that carriers only encrypt LTE user data in counter mode. The data is not integrity protected, which allows the bad actor to break the cryptography. Even worse, the aLTEr hack was only one of three forms of vulnerability exposed by research experts.

Maybe you’re thinking, “Well, who cares about 4G LTE? 5G is coming soon anyway” First of all, the first 5G networks aren’t expected to be widely deployed until around 2021. Secondly, although it’s true that 5G supports fully authenticated encryption, it’s not mandatory, which means most carriers won’t bother with the extra effort required to add it.

Fortunately, a better solution to relying on the insufficient wireless security provided by carriers is already available; one that renders the aLTEr attack totally powerless.

The solution: Host-Identity Protocol (HIP) Enabled Networks

After many years of testing and development, the Host Identity Protocol (HIP) was officially ratified by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) in 2015, and serves as ironclad security against all attacks on wireless networks, including aLTEr. HIP enables a fully-encrypted and mobile private overlay that renders your network invisible to all potentially malicious external sources.

Traditional networks have always been subject to one inherent flaw, which is the ultimately connectable, but vastly insecure IP address. This is the exact mistake made by the Internet’s founding fathers that I referenced earlier.

By replacing the vulnerable IP address with a cryptographic entity that cannot be manipulated by bad actors, HIP can effectively connect, segment, and cloak wireless and wired networks of any type. This is a networking solution based on identity, rather than the wide-open, address-based model that was built many years ago.

HIP-enabled networks remove the blind faith involved with trusting wireless carriers to secure your mobile communication and Internet usage. As long as users are operating from the identity-based private overlay, their activity remains invisible to bad actors, regardless of what type of security or non-security the carrier chooses to provide you with.

Because a unique cryptographic identity is assigned to every device or endpoint, users are also free to move from the on-premises corporate network to public wi-fi, the cloud, or anywhere else while remaining totally secure. This makes a HIP-based solution infinitely mobile, as well as ultimately secure.

Implement HIP networking for a secure wireless world

The wireless world is still expanding, but so is the malicious intent of hackers everywhere. In 2011, the world wanted to know, “Can you hear me now?”

With all those cell towers enabling communication all over the world, the answer is most likely, “Yes.”

In 2018, the world wants to know, “Can you hack me now?”

By implementing full encryption via HIP-based technology, the answer is “Not in my network.”


Marc Kaplan is the VP of Security Architecture and Services at Tempered Networks where he is responsible for defining and designing best practices reference architectures that function across operational and information technologies. He has deep security and networking knowledge from hands-on experience in working with clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies to federal agencies.

Kaplan’s most recent role was Co-founder and CEO of Gomazu. Previously, he was the Sr. Director Worldwide Security Field Systems Engineering at F5 Networks, where he was instrumental to the company’s security business growth as a compliment to the core application delivery focus. Prior to F5, Kaplan was a technical lead at Nokia Security Products and held various leadership positions in product management and field systems engineering.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of Marc Kaplan and do not necessarily represent those of IDG Communications, Inc., its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.