Believe it or not, “feature phones,” a polite way of saying the crappy old flip-phones and candy bars we used to have in our pockets, are still around. If you’re on a tablet all the time anyway, they’re actually a fairly effective option for just taking calls and receiving texts. Oh, and also they can be turned into viciously effective communications scramblers.
Researchers at the Technical University of Berlin have developed basic software updates to a cheap phone that essentially turns it into jammer with an effective reach of seventy-five miles. How? Basically by just telling the network “Hey, that call was meant for me!” and then body-slamming it into the ground:
In normal situations, when a call or SMS is sent over the network, a cellular tower “pages” nearby devices to find the one that should receive it. The rewritten firmware can block calls because it can respond to paging faster than a victim’s phone can. When the network sends out a page, the modified phone says “It’s me” first, and the victim’s phone never receives it. …That’s enough to stall communications in a location area, which in Berlin average 200 square kilometers in size.
Feeling safe yet? Eleven phones can basically knock out communications to most of a city if properly placed.
As you might have guessed, something this ridiculous is the result of a corporate mistake: Generally, the code that dictates this stuff is kept top-secret, but one leak for one phone blew the whole thing wide open. And as we’ve seen repeatedly, major corporations respond to problems like this with “No you’re stupid.” Also, this works on GSM networks and it’d be really expensive to fix, so mostly celluar networks are saying that this won’t be a problem on your fancy new 4G network. You know, because that’s perfectly secure. Honest.
(Image courtesy of killrbeez on Flickr)