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Nov 16 (Reuters) - New high-speed wireless networks are vulnerable to relatively simple jamming attacks, which could be used by terrorists or criminals, a research group at a U.S. university has warned.
The wireless research group at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, said in a letter to the U.S. Department of Commerce that it found "extremely effective attacks can be realized, using fairly low complexity."
The Virginia Tech researchers warned the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) that if the newer LTE networks are used by public safety officials they could become targets of terrorists or criminals.
The group is conducting research into the security of networks based on Long Term Evolution (LTE) high-speed technology, a newer technology used to transmit high-speed data on mobile phones.
The Virginia Tech researchers were responding to a request for comment from the NTIA, looking into future public safety networks.
"It is very possible for radio jamming to accompany a terrorist attack, for the purpose of preventing communications and increasing destruction. Likewise it is possible for criminal organizations to create mayhem among public safety personnel by jamming," the researchers said in the letter dated Nov. 8.
Leading network equipment maker Ericsson said it may be possible to limit the effect of such attacks, and a U.S. industry group said LTE was just as secure as older wireless technologies, in response to the early findings from the research group.
Ericsson, the world's largest mobile network equipment maker, said the structure of network technology would limit the impact of any jamming attack trying to overwhelm a carrier's base station.
A senior cyber security expert with CTIA, a U.S. trade group for wireless telecommunications providers, said it has long been possible for attackers to interrupt communications by interfering with signalling systems, regardless of whether they are using LTE or another wireless technology.
"In LTE, the security architecture is as good or better (than) you see with 3G networks," said John Marinho, vice president of cyber security and technology for CTIA.
"It's illegal. There are laws," said Marinho.
The CTIA's biggest members including Verizon Wireless, AT&T Inc, Sprint Nextel Corp and T-Mobile USA are all upgrading their networks with LTE technology.
Verizon Wireless is a venture of Verizon Communications and Vodafone Group Plc, and T-Mobile USA is owned by Deutsche Telekom.
Ericsson the largest maker of LTE network equipment ahead of Nokia Siemens Networks and Alcatel-Lucent , said that all wireless systems with a limited amount of airwaves - including radio, broadcasting, WiFi and current national safety systems - are at risk of jamming attacks.
"However, since cellular base stations are placed at a regular distance from each other, cellular systems have an inherent resilience to how large a geographical impact a jammer can have," the Swedish firm said, adding the distance between base stations is low in densely populated areas.
"Even if a jammer can bring down the service level in single cells, it will not affect the whole network of surrounding cells," Ericsson said in a statement.