Chapter 20. Telecom System Security

I rarely had to resort to a technical attack. Companies can spend millions of dollars toward technological protections and that's wasted if somebody can basically call someone on the telephone and either convince them to do something on the computer that lowers the computer's defenses or reveals the information they were seeking.

— Kevin Mitnick

There are two kinds of fools. One says, "This is old, therefore it is good." The other one says, "This is new, therefore it is better".

— Dean William Inge


The protection of telecommunications systems is an important case study for a number of reasons. First, many distributed systems rely on the fixed or mobile phone network in ways that are often not obvious, and the dependability of these networks is declining. For example, POTS — the 'plain old telephone system' — typically required exchanges to have backup generators with enough diesel to survive a six-week outage in the electricity supply, while cellular systems typically use batteries that will last at most 48 hours. What's worse, the electicity companies rely on mobile phones to direct their engineers when repairing faults. When people realised that this could cause serious problems where outages lasted more than two days, the electricity companies started buying satellite phones as a backup.

Second, the history of telecomms security failures is very instructive. Early attacks were carried out on phone companies by enthusiasts ('phone phreaks') ...

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