Pre-Authentication Messages as a Common Root Cause of Cell Network Attacks

Monday, January 27, 2020 - 3:00 pm3:30 pm

Yomna Nasser


What do almost all recent cell network attacks that affect mobile user privacy have in common? They exploit the fact that cell phones have no way of authenticating towers during the initial connection bootstrapping phase. This includes everything from older IMSI catcher-style attacks to the newer spoofing attacks against the Presidential Alerts emergency broadcast system.

In this talk, we'll cover the distinct types of attacks that pre-authentication messages used in cell connection bootstrapping enable, how this ended up being such a prevalent issue, some of the efforts underway to try and fix this, and why this is ultimately such a hard problem to solve.

Yomna Nasser[node:field-speakers-institution]

Yomna is a research engineer whose focus is cell network security. She is a Technology Fellow at EFF, was previously a core contributor to Certbot, and a research fellow at Harvard Law, and has a degree in mathematics from the University of Waterloo.

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@conference {244700,
author = {Yomna Nasser},
title = {{Pre-Authentication} Messages as a Common Root Cause of Cell Network Attacks},
year = {2020},
address = {San Francisco, CA},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = jan

Presentation Video