Nov 19, 2012
Long Term Evolution (LTE) mobile network technology is now being adopted in many countries that promise higher-bandwidth allowing mobile operators to cater faster uploads and downloads of relatively large amount of data. It is also known that LTE is ten times faster than 3G networks. But according to a research, this high-bandwidth mobile network technology can be easily disrupted by using a simple and cheap battery operated transmitter. Researchers also added that such jamming devices could fit into a small container such as a brief case.
“Picture a jammer that fits in a small briefcase that takes out miles of LTE signals-whether commercial or public safety. This can be relatively easy to do. If a hacker added an inexpensive power amplifier to his malicious rig, he could take down an LTE network in an even larger region.” says Jeff Reed, a wireless research group at Virginia Tech.
We all know that any radio frequency can be disrupted or “jammed”. The disruptions occur when a jamming device is used to send signals that have the same frequency and enough power. In the case of LTE, this mobile network technology is especially vulnerable. According to Reed’s group, that is because the whole LTE signal depends on special control instructions that only make up less than 1 percent of the overall signal. This part of the signal contains the time synchronization and frequency synchronization that makes LTE transmissions to become successful. If the synchronization is disrupted, the whole LTE transmissions will definitely fail.
“Your phone is constantly syncing with the base station, in order to effectively carry and assemble bits of information that make up, say, a photo or a video. If you can disrupt that synchronization, you will not be able to send or receive data” says Lichtman, a graduate research assistant that co-wrote the study.
Aside from the part of the signal that carries the critical synchronization information, the researchers also mentioned about LTE “weak points”. These weak points attributed to the LTE’s complexity that when one of the weak spot is taken down, the whole LTE system will fail.
“There are multiple weak spots—about eight different attacks are possible. The LTE signal is very complex, made up of many subsystems, and in each case, if you take out one subsystem; you take out the entire base station.”
Though the problems associated with LTE has been brought up, the group weren’t able to provide solutions. According to the researchers, the more important thing is that the problem has been identified so that mitigations and solutions can be developed to address the above concerns. The good news though is that when an LTE network is taken down, 3G and 2G could still operate. And this can only be true if those systems weren’t phased out by a specific mobile network carrier and still deployed to cater those subscribers who were left out in the dark by these jamming devices.