How secure are GSM networks?

How secure are GSM networks?
The Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) is probably the most secure of all the cell phone technologies. It encrypts voice communications by default and has an authentication system that uses the built-in SIM chip in each phone. In addition, the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) has introduced newer encryption methods (see more at http://www.3gpp.org/TB/Other/algorithms.htm) that enhance security even further.

This is not to say that GSM links cannot be tapped into and listened in on given enough time, effort, government authority, or money. For this and basically all other cell phone technologies, the communications security only applies to the wireless portion of the communications link. The backend links provided by land lines could be susceptible to interception, especially by an insider or other individual with the proper tools who has access to the switching network.

This was first published in September 2003

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