It’s fairly well known at this stage that high end smartphones like the iPhone, Android and Windows Mobile devices can all be hacked and have been, but surprisingly only 16% of all mobiles are actually smartphones. The rest are just regular bog standard feature phones that can send and receive texts, make phone calls and play back mp3’s. Now if you’re one of those users, don’t worry your not alone. These feature phones comprise of 5 Billion users around the world.
Up until now we didn’t think those phones could be hacked, simply because no one bothered to try, until now that is. Researchers from the Berlin Institute of Technology have come up with “SMS-o-Death.”
Feature phones are harder to attack, but two students discovered a way to send malicious text messages and force cell phones to shut down or disconnect from the network. They took advantage of an SMS protocol that is used to send small programs known as binaries which network operators often use to change settings remotely on mobile phones.
By taking advantage of this, they were able to create malicious messages for all popular feature phones like Nokia, LG, Samsung, Motorola, Sony Ericsson, and Micromax. The attacks could abruptly knock the phone off or disconnect it from the network without warning.
Because feature phones are so common and take up most of the market a large number of users could be knocked out by these attacks if they ever happen. One limitation with the attacks is that they need to know your phone number and your phone model, however 5 text messages could be sent out to thousands of phones aimed at the most popular feature phones and take down a large number of them.
So is there a way to protect against this? Well not really, it would be up to the networks to roll out firmware upgrades for all those feature phones, and most feature phone users wouldn’t be aware of how to update the firmware over USB or may not be bothered to at all. Aside from filtering all text messages (which is already done for spam) there’s not a whole lot you can do about it.
However Smartphone users are still more likely to get attacked since their devices generally contain a lot more personal information worth gaining, were as the worst that can happen at the moment with feature phones is that it gets turned off.