What is thought as a relatively safer and unbreachable communication device used by classified sectors i.e. satellite phone has been successfully breached by Chinese researchers. The news of breaching satellite phone encryption have troubled and worried many top classified institutions about the safety of their communication.
The rumours of the lack of privacy in satellite phone communication started back in 2012 when “The Telegraph” published a report. This report quoted:
“Security researchers have warned that the satellite phones relied on by businesses, charities and government agencies in trouble spots and emergencies worldwide can be easily intercepted and deciphered.”
In that case, German researchers cracked the story of being able to hack satellite phone encryption systems. They also quoted:
“We were able to completely reverse engineer the encryption algorithms employed,” said Benedikt Driessen and Ralf Hund of Ruhr University Bochum as they announced their report, “Don’t Trust Satellite Phones”.
However, this time the news is of two Chinese researchers being able to crack the news openly. They have improvised a new method to decrypt the code of satellite phone communication in few seconds.
The decryption of the encryption known as GMR-2 cipher is an advancement in the technique used by German researchers. With this decryption, all calls can be heard in real-time. In the published report, the Chinese researchers used reverse the encryption procedure to deduce the decryption key.
The method of decryption involves repeated attacks on 3.3 GHz satellite system which is known as inversion attacks. This helps produce the 64 bit encryption key which is reverse engineered to devise the decryption key. In some cases, this process can be done in as less than 0.02 seconds which is mind boggling!
The report warns the classified officials who depend on this means of communication to transfer classified information regarding defence and other important matters. The report quoted that it is very alarming that such vulnerabilities are present in GMR-2 encryption system. The report called on the manufacturers to upgrade the cryptographic modules to make this system safer.
This vital research of satellite phone encryption was made by two people from National University of Defence Technology, Changsha, China. Thanks to them for pointing out this vital flaw in security of communication systems.