Security experts are warning of major weaknesses in the 5G network standard, which could allow hackers to intercept phone calls and track the location of mobile users.
Researchers at the University of Iowa claim that these weaknesses, which are also present in the 4G standard, could be easily exploited by “any person with a little knowledge” of how the technology works.
Using equipment that costs as little as $200 (£153), hackers could reportedly gain access to a victim’s phone and listen in on calls or send messages that appear as though they are coming from a trusted contact.
They could also place and cancel a flurry of calls over a short period of time without alerting the phone’s owner, allowing them to track the victim’s location.
All of the four major US mobile networks are vulnerable to these attacks, according to the researchers.
The report didn’t state whether mobile providers in the UK are also vulnerable, but the tech underpinning both countries’ mobile networks is the very similar.
The researchers told TechCrunch that they had reported the issues to the international GSM Association for mobile communications companies, but that they had not yet been fixed.
Following the publication of the report, the GSM Association said it was investigating the vulnerabilities, to decide whether modifications needed to be made to the standards.
“The GSMA would like to clarify that there is no impact on 5G networks due to the original research being based on an early version of the standard that has since changed,” a spokesperson said.
The study comes as mobile operators and phone makers around the world are preparing for the rollout of 5G networks, which promise faster download speeds.
However, Raj Samani, Chief Scientist and Fellow at cyber security firm McAfee, said the risks of 5G are far wider-reaching than the network itself.
“As the user experience becomes quicker and more seamless, people will be tempted to connect to the internet on-the-go even more, across multiple devices,” he said.
“The level of data being transmitted across networks and stored within the cloud will increase with these faster speeds. In turn, the number of devices being connected will grow at an exponential rate expanding the threat surface significantly.
“To ensure that data is protected in a 5G-connected world, security must be embedded at every touchpoint – from the cloud, to the network, to the router in people’s home and all connected devices.”
The University of Iowa’s full report, entitled “Privacy Attacks to the 4G and 5G Cellular Paging Protocols Using Side Channel Information”, in available here.