Hackers from around the globe recently met in Vegas for the 19th Defcon hacking conference. This is a huge event for those interested in security and more importantly, the holes in current security products and tactics, as well as next generation vulnerabilities. So naturally, one might be wary of freely using their laptop or smart phone around so many hacking enthusiasts. Throwing caution to the digital wind however, perhaps through arrogance, confidence, or disregard, people still actively connected, but mostly through their cell phones instead of their laptops.
Though little is confirmed about a legitimate hack, while at the conference people were expressing concern over strange occurrences on their phones, including degraded signal and well timed multiple suggested software updates. Degraded service where thousands of 4G users are bombarding towers all at the same time may be reasonably expected. According to a post on seclists.org, however, a “weapon” may have been used to gain access to thousands of what should have been suspecting cell phone users’ phones and computers at Defcon.
In the seclists.org post by coderman, he says the attack was designed for mass exploitation, reconnaissance, [data] exfiltration, and eavesdropping, using a variety of exploits and techniques across CDMA and 4G connections.
He offers in the same post symptoms or actions that may indicate a victim of the Defcon cell attack. Some of the symptoms are vague and include an Android crash or charging troubles, which could be caused by normal issues. Other symptoms, which may still be benign, include full signal but poor bandwidth, or slow download speeds but fast upload speeds. Most concerning, though possibly excluding phones, he mentions the presence of an ssh process that can’t be killed.
Fake charging stations, believed to be a delivery method for the malware mentioned here, were sprinkled throughout the area. Many were wise enough to spot and avoid them, but plugging in anywhere while at Defcon was a generally recognized bad idea, but apparently not recognized enough.
I am disappointed by the lack of paranoia/caution displayed by the people who attended this event. They should know better than to trust leaving anything open to compromise when going to a conference like this, from their wallets to their cell phones. Attendees were even advised by staff not to use the available wifi. Even hackers are victims from time to time.