updated 05:03 pm EST, Thu November 15, 2012
Briefcase-sized transmitter could block thousands of devices
An LTE network in a city could be taken down by $650 worth of equipment, according to researchers. The team at Virginia Tech believes that a battery-operated transmitter the size of a small briefcase could, if operated correctly, knock out 4G coverage for miles around a large base station, cutting off communications for thousands of users.
The researchers learned that by attacking a small section of LTE spectrum, an LTE base station can be knocked out. "Picture a jammer that fits in a small briefcase that takes out miles of LTE signals – whether commercial or public safety," said Jeff Reed, director of wireless research at Virginia Tech, to the MIT Technology Review. "This can be relatively easy to do."
If 3G and 2G networks are phased out, leaving just 4G LTE in operation, there would be no back-up system in place for emergency services to communicate with each other. In a report sent to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, an organization that advises the White House in the area of communications, Reed suggested that if such an attack was made on an LTE network shortly after a terrorist attack, communication between emergency service units would be compromised, in turn slowing response times from early responders.
It has been revealed that a laptop, a software-defined radio and a car battery would be all that is required to successfully attack the base station. The openly-published LTE standard would require a communications engineer to understand fully what would be needed to block the signal, and they would have eight different avenues of attack to choose from. Since the entire LTE signal depends on instructions that make up less than one percent of what is broadcast and received, the researchers believe that LTE is more vulnerable than 3G or 2G signals.
The report to the NTIA was originally sent last week. The researchers have yet to receive a response.