Exploiting open functionality in SMS-capable cellular networks

Patrick Traynor, William Enck, Patrick McDaniel, Thomas La Porta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Cellular networks are a critical component of the economic and social infrastructures in which we live. In addition to voice services, these networks deliver alphanumeric text messages to the vast majority of wireless subscribers. To encourage the expansion of this new service, telecommunications companies offer connections between their networks and the Internet. The ramifications of such connections, however, have not been fully recognized. In this paper, we evaluate the security impact of the SMS interface on the availability of the cellular phone network. Specifically, we describe the ability to deny voice service to cities the size of Washington DC and Manhattan with little more than a cable modem. Moreover, attacks targeting the entire United States are feasible with resources available to medium-sized zombie networks. This analysis begins with an exploration of the structure of cellular networks. We then characterize network behavior and explore a number of reconnaissance techniques aimed at effectively targeting attacks on these systems. We conclude by discussing countermeasures that mitigate or eliminate the threats introduced by these attacks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)713-742
Number of pages30
JournalJournal of Computer Security
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 17 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Software
  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality
  • Hardware and Architecture
  • Computer Networks and Communications


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