Grant awarded to improve the security of mobile devices and cellular networks

Nov 10, 2009
With a new grant, Georgia Tech computer scientists Jonathon Giffin (left) and Patrick Traynor are developing cell phone remote repair methods, which will allow service providers to assist in cleaning infected devices. Credit: Georgia Tech Photo: Gary Meek

Smart phones -- like BlackBerrys and iPhones -- have become indispensable to today's highly mobile workforce and tech-savvy youngsters. While these devices keep friends and colleagues just a few thumb-taps away, they also pose new security and privacy risks.

"Traditional cell phones have been ignored by attackers because they were specialty devices, but the new phones available today are handheld computers that are able to send and receive e-mail, surf the Internet, store documents and remotely access data -- all actions that make them vulnerable to a wide range of attacks," said Patrick Traynor, assistant professor in the School of Computer Science at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Traynor and Jonathon Giffin, also an assistant professor in the School of Computer Science, recently received a three-year $450,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to develop tools that improve the of mobile devices and the on which they operate. These Georgia Tech faculty, together with a team of graduate students, are developing methods of identifying and remotely repairing mobile devices that may be infected with viruses or other malware.

Malware can potentially eavesdrop on user input or otherwise steal sensitive information, destroy stored information, or disable a device. Attackers may snoop on passwords for online accounts, electronic documents, e-mails that discuss sensitive topics, calendar and phonebook entries, and audio and video media.

"Since mobile phones typically lack security features found on desktop computers, such as antivirus software, we need to accept that the mobile devices will ultimately be successfully attacked. Therefore our research focus is to develop effective attack recovery strategies," explained Giffin.

The researchers plan to investigate whether cellular service providers -- such as AT&T and Verizon Wireless -- are capable of detecting infected devices on their respective networks. Since infected devices often begin to over-utilize the network by sending a high volume of traffic to a known malicious Internet server or by suddenly generating a high volume of text messages, monitoring traffic patterns on the network should allow these infected phones to be located, according to the researchers.

"While a single user might realize that a phone is behaving differently, that person probably won't know why. But a cell phone provider may see a thousand devices behaving in the same way and have the ability to do something about it," said Traynor.

Once infected devices are located, those phones will need to be cleared of the malicious code. To accomplish this, the researchers are developing remote repair methods, which will allow service providers to assist in the cleaning of infected devices without requiring that the phones be brought to a service center. The methods will also have to work without much effort on the part of the customer.

This repair may require disabling some functionality on the phone, such as the ability to use downloaded programs, until the malicious program is located and removed. While the repair is underway, phone calling and text messaging functionality would continue to operate.

"Using this remote repair strategy, the service provider no longer has to completely disable a phone. Instead they just put the device into a safe, but reduced, mode until the malware can be removed," said Giffin.

To assess their proposed methods of finding and repairing infected , the researchers plan to build a cellular network test bed at Georgia Tech that will simulate how cellular devices communicate over a network.

"We hope that developing these attack recovery strategies will let potential mobile phone and network attackers know that these response mechanisms are in place, ultimately making their attacks far less widespread or successful," said Traynor.

Source: Georgia Institute of Technology

Explore further: US proposes pay-for-priority Internet standards (Update 2)

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Wireless World: Industry mum on attacks

Oct 14, 2005

Who do most IT professionals call when there has been a breach of security -- an attack by hackers seeking to steal information from mobile phones and personal digital assistants? Is it the FBI or the CIA or the NSA or the ...

Wireless World: A looming 'cell hell'

Jul 14, 2006

You may have left it in the back seat of the cab. Or in the booth at the restaurant at lunch. Or even at your client's office. Whatever the case may be, it is likely that you lost your mobile phone last year. Research shows ...

U r pwned: text messaging paves way for hacking

Jul 30, 2009

(AP) -- Getting a text message is akin to someone sliding a piece of mail under your door: You may not have asked for it, you can't stop its delivery and you have to deal with it whether you want to or not.

Trend Micro Offers New Mobile Security

Dec 06, 2004

Trend Micro, Inc., a leader in network antivirus and Internet content security software and services, today announced the availability of Trend Micro Mobile Security, providing antivirus and anti-spam protection for SMS messaging ...

Recommended for you

US proposes pay-for-priority Internet standards (Update 2)

11 hours ago

The Federal Communications Commission is set to propose new Internet rules that would allow Internet service providers to charge content companies for faster delivery of their services over the so-called "last mile" connection ...

Internet TV case: US justices skeptical, concerned

Apr 23, 2014

Grappling with fast-changing technology, U.S. Supreme Court justices debated Tuesday whether they can protect the copyrights of TV broadcasters to the shows they send out without strangling innovations in ...

Hundreds in Mexico protest telecommunications law

Apr 23, 2014

Hundreds of students and activists marched in Mexico's capital Tuesday to protest a telecommunications law being debated by the Senate that they say will allow the government to arbitrarily censor Internet content.

User comments : 0

More news stories

Amazon launches grocery service for Prime members

Amazon is taking aim at grocery stores and discounters like Wal-Mart with a grocery service that lets its Prime loyalty club members fill up to a 45-pound box with groceries and get it shipped for a flat rate of $5.99.

Facebook buys fitness app Moves

Facebook has bought the fitness app Moves, which helps users monitor daily physical activity and their calorie counts on a smartphone.

Study links California drought to global warming

While researchers have sometimes connected weather extremes to man-made global warming, usually it is not done in real time. Now a study is asserting a link between climate change and both the intensifying California drought ...