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A flaw has been discovered in the security of 500 million mobile phones that could make them vulnerable to attack, cyber researchers have said.
The bug, discovered by German firm Security Research Labs, allows hackers to remotely gain control of and also clone certain mobile SIM cards. Hackers could use compromised SIMs to commit financial crimes or engage in espionage.
The technique will be presented at the Black Hat hacking conference that opens in Las Vegas on July 31. The UN's Geneva-based International Telecommunications Union , which has reviewed the research, has described it as "hugely significant".
"These findings show us where we could be heading in terms of cybersecurity risks," said ITU secretary general Hamadoun Touré. He said the agency would notify telecommunications regulators and other government agencies in nearly 200 countries about the potential threat, and also reach out to hundreds of mobile companies, academics and other industry experts.
Karsten Nohl, the chief scientist who led the research team, said the hacking only works on SIMs that use an old encryption technology known as DES. However, that technology is still used on at least one out of eight SIMs, or a minimum of 500 million phones, according to Mr Nohl.