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Yu Yu (yes, that is my real name, he joked) is a research professor with Shanghai Jiao Tong University who has spent the last year finding out how to crack the encryption codes on 3G and 4G cards. These use AES-128, which is supposed to be virtually unbeatable by a brute-force attack, but turns out to be easy to defeat using side-channel analysis.
Side-channel attacks measure things like power consumption, electromagnetic emissions, and heat generation to work out what is going on in a chip. The technique has been around for years, and requires physical access to the target device.
Yu and his team assembled an oscilloscope to track the power levels, a MP300-SC2 protocol analyzer to monitor data traffic, a self-made SIM card reader, and a standard PC to correlate the results. With this simple setup they cracked eight commercial SIM cards in between 10 and 80 minutes.
Recovering a key is no five minute job and despite being four times easier than other methods the number of steps required to crack AES-128 is an 8 followed by 37 zeroes.