By Dain Oh, The Readable
Nov. 29, 2022 8:11PM KST Updated Nov. 30, 2022 2:45PM KST
As a defensive measure against future warfare, a nation must invest in new cellular technologies which are designed to prevent eavesdropping by a hostile country and protect mission critical infrastructure, an eminent expert in mobile security suggested on Tuesday.
“Ukraine has been winning victories in cyberspace against Russia because it was well prepared since 2016 and could secretly listen to the Russian forces’ conversions through cellular communication,” said Kim Yongdae, a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering at KAIST.
In 2016, Ukraine suffered from massive power outages which literally turned off power to 225,000 Ukrainian homes in the middle of winter. Cybersecurity researchers later concluded that the power grid attacks were carried out by the Kremlin-backed advanced persistent threat group Sandworm.
Kim’s statement was made while he was delivering a keynote speech at the White Hat Conference, an annual cybersecurity event hosted by the Ministry of National Defense and the Cyber Operations Command of South Korea.
While explaining a few of the reasons that Russia did not destroy the Ukrainian cellular networks while starting the war, such as to eavesdrop on the Ukrainian forces, Kim mentioned that the Ukrainian soldiers were also able to eavesdrop on the Russian soldiers’ telecommunications and locate where they were once they had invaded their territory.
According to local reports in the regions at war, the Russian army used SIM boxes, devices used for a voice over internet protocol gateway installation, on the Ukrainian networks. As a result, the Ukrainian forces were able to get access to the Russian commanders’ telecommunications.
With various examples, Kim demonstrated on stage how to eavesdrop on cellular phones in order to prove how vulnerable the current cellular networks are. Phone scams, which have remained as one of the biggest problems in South Korea, also use the cellular networks’ vulnerability. Drones are vulnerable to external attacks in a similar way to cellular networks, Kim pointed out.
“5G networks have vulnerabilities which will never be patched,” warned Kim. “If you are an invader, you will be able to weaponize them. If you are a defender, you will need to design a new mobile network and its operation plans.”
Notification: The name of the source has been changed from Kim Yong-dae to Kim Yongdae, respecting his personal preference. The Readable follows the latest version of the Associated Press style guide, which is currently the 56th edition.
Dain Oh is an award-winning cybersecurity journalist based in South Korea and the founding editor-in-chief of The Readable by S2W. Before joining S2W, she worked as a reporter for The Electronic Times, the top IT newspaper in Korea, covering the cybersecurity industry on an in-depth level. She reported numerous exclusive stories, and her work related to the National Intelligence Service led to her being honored with the Journalist of the Year Award in 2021 by the Korea Institute of Information Security and Cryptology in a unanimous decision. She was also the first journalist to report on the hacking of vulnerable wallpads in South Korean apartments, which later became a nation-wide issue.