Google has added a feature to its Android mobile operating system that allows users to disable 2G connections, reducing the risk of being duped by a rogue cell tower.
Cell site simulators or ‘stingrays’ pose as legitimate cell towers, tricking phones within its range to connect to it. This allows attackers to stage man-in-the-middle attacks that exploit vulnerabilities in the older 2G standard to intercept device information, call records, voice and text content and browsing history.
2G is the weapon of choice because it is more vulnerable than modern communication technology like 4G and 5G, which have higher security. 2G was standardized in the early 1990s during an era when mobility was ubiquitous and far less complex than the cyber security landscape.
The two biggest issues are that 2G is protected by relatively weak encryption that can be cracked in real-time during transmission and there is no way to verify an authentic base station. This means that it is far easier to imitate a real cell site and end users will not notice the difference.
Although 2G has been superseded by three mobile generations, most mobile operators still have 2G networks to support large IoT deployments that require long battery life and minimal bandwidth, such as smart meters, some elderly and to provide coverage to rural users, and to provide a universal roaming service.
More advanced cell site simulators can force devices to ‘downgrade’ their connections from 4G or 5G to 2G, putting them at risk. Given that these users will never need to connect to a 2G network, the ability to turn off the capability is welcome.
Android users with modern hardware and the latest version of the operating system can do this through the Settings menu. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has welcomed the new feature, though it regrets that it hasn’t covered users with older handsets, and urged Apple to offer the same feature for iOS.
“This is a great feature that will provide some protection from cell site simulators, an aggressive police surveillance technology operating across the country,” the campaign group declared. “We applaud Google for implementing this much-needed feature.
“While there is a lot more work to be done, this will ensure that many people eventually get a basic level of protection. We encourage Google, Apple and Samsung to invest more resources in radio security so that they can make use of smartphones.” better protect the owners.”
Nerdshala Pro Have contacted Google for more information about which devices and Android versions are compatible with this feature.
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