January 7, 2010 / 5:42 PM / 10 years ago

Cellular group says mobile calls safe from hackers

BOSTON (Reuters) - A wireless industry group said mobile phone conversations are safe from eavesdropping, even after a German security expert released the code for unscrambling calls made using most of the world’s cell phones.

Concerns spread last week that cell phone calls could easily be intercepted after encryption expert Karsten Nohl unveiled his research at Europe’s largest hacking conference, in Berlin.

The London-based GSM Association said on Thursday that it has spent the past few years figuring out ways to thwart hackers who might try to tap into wireless calls using Nohl’s research, which it first learned of in 2007.

GSM Association engineers have figured out a short-term solution to block eavesdroppers, said James Moran, head of security for the association. It involves making slight changes to the settings in each wireless operator’s network.

Carriers can quickly make those adjustments by tweaking existing features in the technology, Moran said in an interview.

“Should people be worried? I think no,” he said.

Nohl’s research applies to GSM technology, which runs about 80 percent of the world’s mobile phones, including systems run by AT&T Inc, Deutsche Telekom and France Telecom.

Over the next several years, GSM carriers will adopt a new standard for encrypting, or scrambling, voice conversations that will be tougher to crack, according to Moran.

Reporting by Jim Finkle; editing by John Wallace

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