It has been 21 years since Global Systems for Mobile Communications (GSM) has been using the A5/1 encryption technology to protect the privacy of its user. Until date, many people tried to crack the encryption technology used by GSM but failed. However, a 28 year old guy of German race, named Karsten Nohl told the world that he has managed to crack the security code at the Chaos Communication Congress a four day conference of computer hackers in Berlin.
More than 80% of the network providers over the world use the GSM technology over its rival CDMA technology. Mr. Nohl, who is a doctorate in computer engineering from the University Of Virginia, said that cracking the GSM security standard required 24 members of the Chaos Computer Club, and that he did it purely on academic purposes and that he kept his work within the public domain. He said that his work cannot be deemed illegal because he did not crack/decipher any actual digital calls. Mr. Nohl also said that the GSM algorithm code book was easily available on various bit torrent sites.
Mr. Nohl said “We are not recommending people use this information to break the law. What we are doing is trying to goad the world’s wireless operators to use better security.”
The A5/1 encryption technology is a 64 bit binary code encryption technology, which is considered old by today’s standard. The GSM Association has devised the successor to A5/1, known as A5/3, which has a 128 bit encryption technique. The GSM Association also claims that there is very little chance of the security of the GSM users being compromised as hackers would have to pick one call out of thousand of calls at a cell phone tower, which requires exorbitantly priced equipments and software. The cracking of the GSM encryption has put on stake the privacy of more than 3.6 billion GSM users all over the world.
The 3rd Generation (3G) network uses the 128 bit encryption technique.