4G LTE might be a thing of beauty for mobile users who love a good and fast internet connection while on the road, but according to a document filed with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, a laptop and a software-defined radio unit costing about $650 is all it takes to take down a 4G network within a reasonably-size radius.
It turns out that every mobile phone grid is vulnerable to this technique, including FirstNet, which is the emergency communications network that was designed and implemented after 9/11, but 4G networks are said to be especially vulnerable to the hack. The authors of the document say that "it's relatively easy to do" by anyone with basic communications engineering skills, and if you were to spend just a bit more on a cheap power amplifier, you could take down a region as large as the state of New York.
If 4G LTE networks were to be compromised, existing 3G and 2G networks would still operate, but seeing how these older network technologies are gradually being phased out, there soon won't be a backup for a downed 4G network. Of course, any radio frequency can be “jammed” if a transmitter sends a signal at the same frequency with enough power, but knowing that it can happen to a 4G LTE network across an entire state is a little disconcerting.
While the authors say that anyone could do this, it would require technical knowledge of the complexity of the LTE standard. However, those standards are actually openly published, which means that “any communications engineer would be able to figure this stuff out.” And all they would need is less than $1,000 to make it happen. Both Qualcomm and Ericsson, which are companies heavily invested in LTE networks, have yet to comment on the matter.
[via Technology Review]