FICORA investigates impacts of Gemalto's suspected data break-in on Finns' communications

Published 23.02.2015

A suspicion of an extensive data break-in has drawn attention in publicity and it has been targeted against encryption keys which can used for tapping mobile calls. FICORA is currently investigating whether the suspected data break-in has impacts on Finns' communications. Information security company Gemalto manufactures the majority of the globally used SIM cards.

According to an article published by news website The Intercept on 19 March, American and British intelligence authorities hacked in 2010 into the systems of information security company Gemalto and its cooperation partners. The article states that encryption keys used for encrypting the communications between mobile terminal devices and base stations were stolen in conjunction with the hacking.

Stolen encryption keys enable the decryption of hijacked mobile calls to plain language. Thereby, mobile calls can be tapped. This requires, however, that the hijacker has access to the coverage area of the phone and base station in order to store the radio signal. Thus, the threat that is targeted against a single mobile phone user and that endangers confidential communications remains small. An encryption key is used to individualise a subscription's SIM card which means that a stolen key can also be used for forging SIM cards.

Gemalto manufacturers chips also for identity cards, payment cards, passports, and mobile certificates of SIM cards. However, the encryption methods used in these is different from the methods used in SIM cards where the encryption is based on a symmetrical, shared key. FICORA aims at investigating whether the recently reported, suspected data break-in has any impact on the information security of these products.

The suspected encryption key theft does not have direct impacts on the security of Finnish consumers' communications. There is no reason to change the SIM card, unless the telecommunications operator advises to do so.

Further information:

Antti Kiuru, Head of Coordination Centre at the National Cyber Security Centre, tel. +358 295 390 559

Key words: Information security , CERT , Cyber security , Data break-in , Encryption , Mobile phone , News

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