LTE Networks Could be Jammed with Inexpensive Technique

November 16, 2012, By Sanjeev Ramachandran

From the wired to the wireless, we have been expanding at an exponential rate. And with each foray into the wireless world, we seek faster speeds and seamless web traffic.

It’s smartphones that have quite effectively triggered out the need for faster and persistent connections. With demand growing, wireless carriers have been working hard to give the best to the consumers, and that’s how long-term evolution or LTE is being fired out all across the country.

LTE, with speeds four times as fast as the 3G networks we have now, was first deployed by Verizon in the US, and the national carrier expects to spread it over to 400 markets by this year end. But, as always with any good thing, there’s a dark side to this technology.

Researchers say that anyone who has a laptop, an inexpensive transmitter and a little technical know-how, can possibly take down the high-speed wireless data networks. Anyone armed with just a laptop and a $650 transmitter could take out an LTE base station, warn researchers.

The Wireless @ Virginia Tech research group submitted a filing to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and they talked about the threat to wireless data networks in their report: “An example strategy would be to target specific control or synchronization signals, in order to increase the geographic range of the jammer and better avoid detection. The availability of low-cost and easy to use software-defined radios makes this threat even more realistic.”

Jeff Reed, director of Virginia Tech’s wireless research group, said that the threat could be a very dangerous one if the technique falls into the hands of terrorists and criminals. Such an attack, according to Reed, would be difficult to fend off.

Any radio frequency can be blocked by having another signal at the same frequency in its place. But an LTE signal is significantly vulnerable because the signal syncs the base station and the user’s handset.

So if that synchronization is disrupted, then the user won’t be able to send in or receive data. Researchers say that this is just one of the eight vulnerabilities that could be used to disrupt communications between handsets and base stations.

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