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Protecting Core Operator Networks Against Privacy and Fraud Attacks

Developed in 1975, SS7 (Signalling System No.7) is, in simple terms, the technology that allows different mobile operators from around the world to communicate with one another. In slightly more detailed terms, it is a set of protocols that are used globally within the telecommunications industry to allow data to be transported efficiently, reducing the risk of security breaches.

What is SS7?

The protocol was designed in order to enable the control and billing of communications within a trusted network. It works by putting the information required to set up and manage a telephone call in a separate network, to that of which a telephone call is made.

However, the technology is relatively old fashioned and as a result, there have been a number of cases recently that have highlighted the fact that there are a series of vulnerabilities in telecommunications protocols, meaning that breaches can occur in SS7. And, once the network is breached, user locations can be pinpointed, phone-calls and messages can be monitored, both network and user data can be manipulated and defrauded, and revenues from key services become under threat.

This means that, hackers from one country can tap into calls and messages in another country without actually being in the territory. Once they’d hacked in, they can locate you (the mobile phone user) wherever you are in the world, track your movements, and record your messages and calls.

Unsurprisingly, these attacks on the SS7 network are causing major issues for the industry, shattering both consumer and regulator trust in the signalling that forms the very core of operators networks.

How can SS7 be breached?

Because SS7 sees control signals traveling in a separate network from the call itself, it is much more difficult for anyone to violate the system’s security. It is, however, possible – and recent research and case studies have demonstrated that such threats and incidents of successful breaches are rising.

Hackers and snoopers can use a number of techniques in order to take advantage of the weaknesses in the SS7 system, allowing them to eavesdrop and intercept phone calls and text messages. In fact, according to the Washington Post, non-state actors can use the SS7 to track the movements of mobile phone users from anywhere in the world with a success rate of around 70%!

Understandably, this is a cause of great concern to many, especially the core operator networks who are responsible for safeguarding the data transmitted via their services.

What can be done to prevent these breaches?

Operators are under increasing pressure from both governments and industry regulators to protect the privacy of their users. With threats coming from a huge range of sources, from national security agencies, to fraudsters and malicious hackers, mobile operators, regulators, and vendors are having to work closely together in order to identify and implement solutions.

In response to this, mobile security companies are constantly seeking ways in which they can protect against and prevent these attacks. AdaptiveMobile, for example, recently launched its newest product, SS7 Protection, which secures mobile operator core networks against privacy and fraud attacks that exploit loopholes in the SS7 signalling protocol.

The product brings together the SS7 Firewall, which sits at the SS7 interconnect points between carriers and blocks suspicious traffic before a breach occurs, with an advanced analytics module, which uses Big Data and smart algorithms to identify, block, and report on new threats to the network. In addition to this, it also calls upon a Threat Intelligence service, which shares real-time updates across a community of over 75 global operators.

About the author

Milana Rose, AppLecture news editor. Kind, sympathetic and very inquisitive person, who loves to help people with the "computer", and not only those challenges sufficiently due to her knowledge. Hobbies - Apple products, drawing, dancing, swimming, a healthy lifestyle. In a private use - MacBook Air, iPad 2, iPhone 4, iPod Nano 5, iPod touch, Mac Mini.
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