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I read about this here.

If I understand this correctly, it states that a smartphones could get compromised via it's baseband chip and it's (potentially) unsafe and closed-source firmware.

I also read this discussion about the mentioned article.

But as I have no deep understanding of the low-level hardware used inside smartphones (or the security implications of different connection types between the GSM chip and other components, I do not really know what to believe.

torproject.org's article "Mission Improbable: Hardening Android for Security And Privacy" states:

Until phones with auditable baseband isolation are available (the Neo900 looks like a promising candidate), the baseband remains a problem on all of these phones. It is unknown if vulnerabilities or backdoors in the baseband can turn on the mic, make silent calls, or access device memory

How realistic is an attack scenario like this when thinking of an adversary capable of compromising the radio link (given a perfectly safe operating system on the smartphone)?

  • You're contradicting yourself. "Unsafe" or "perfectly safe" software? – deviantfan Aug 4 '17 at 17:05
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    I don't see any contradiction. To clarify: it says the firmware of the baseband chip is likely to be unsafe. So even if the operating system was perfectly safe, the phone could still get compromised because chip has access to the phone's hardware (like cpu memory, microphones, etc.). There are two separate software components involved! – rlsw Aug 6 '17 at 14:34
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It is very realistic (Replicant developers find and close Samsung Galaxy backdoor), but most of the time they do not need to use it, because preinstalled spywares already work very well (26 Top Smartphone Models Come With Pre-installed Spyware), and they usually have several fake radio towers to see all your verification and activation SMS.

You have nowhere to run or hide, computers are also not better (Lenovo Superfish several times, HP Audio driver and Support Assistant). Even if you wipe the HDD, the motherboard contains a cryptoprocessor with a unique key owned by Microsoft or other US authority, which gives them limitless control over the machine (there was no known example for this, only for undisclosed security holes, see the WannaCry worm). Even if you manage to tame the TPM, its hackable, and there are methods to infect air-gapped machines too without physical access to them. To expand it into the realm of nightmare, there is already a DNA transferable, bio-reproductive virus code, robotic insects and miniature tracking chips.

So the only solution is open source hardware with open source firmware and open OS — which does not exist yet in great numbers, and we hope, it won't be forbidden, but its not unrealistic either, since the main idea is that the average citizen should always have a backdoor — to protect them.

Until fully transparent hard and software there is choice between illusion of privacy, and self-censorship, except if you are a lucky and clever criminal.

(I am not allowed to link much, you need to search up the copied terms. Also I do not recommend to worry too much about these things, it can make you sick, but rather keep learning and effectively protecting yourself. Full security does'nt exist. You're welcome. If it is not a good answer, let me know.)

  • Thank you for your answer! I also think open source hardware is the solution to this problem (if it is a problem). Maybe I should have asked what we can do at the moment to mitigate or to detect such attacks instead - because keeping our operating systems free of backdoors and spyware would not be enough in this case. – rlsw Aug 6 '17 at 15:13
  • I agree, but until we have backdoors, it is also pointless to live in the illusion of security. If you are an average user of any phone, you cannot do significant things. If you are a bit more advanced, you can install custom ROMs, like Lineage OS. If you do not know how to properly do that, you can throw out a middle category phone. If you do, you have an opensource, googlefree, weekly updated phone. But it will not fix hardware issues or the basic nature of radio technology. The best choice is simply to use a well chosen pc or a pager. I do not know what are your aims with the phone. – TriloByte Aug 6 '17 at 16:50
  • there are no lock that can't be open. the question is how much effort and time is needed to break them. the goal is to achieve a reasonable balance, making yourself unworthy to be attacked. – iTake May 7 at 8:15

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