Breaking and Fixing VoLTE: Exploiting Hidden Data Channels and Mis-implementations

Abstract

Long Term Evolution (LTE) is becoming the dominant cellular networking technology, shifting the cellular network away from its circuit-switched legacy towards a packet-switched network that resembles the Internet. To support voice calls over the LTE network, operators have introduced Voice-over-LTE (VoLTE), which dramatically changes how voice calls are handled, both from user equipment and infrastructure perspectives. We find that this dramatic shift opens up a number of new attack surfaces that have not been previously explored. To call attention to this matter, this paper presents a systematic security analysis.

Unlike the traditional call setup, the VoLTE call setup is controlled and performed at the Application Processor (AP), using the SIP over IP. A legitimate user who has control over the AP can potentially control and exploit the call setup process to establish a VoLTE channel. This combined with the legacy accounting policy (e.g., unlimited voice and the separation of data and voice) leads to a number of free data channels. In the process of unveiling the free data channels, we identify a number of additional vulnerabilities of early VoLTE implementations, which lead to serious exploits, such as caller spoofing, over-billing, and denial-of-service attacks. We identify the nature of these vulnerabilities and concrete exploits that directly result from the adoption of VoLTE. We also propose immediate countermeasures that can be employed to alleviate the problems. However, we believe that the nature of the problem calls for a more comprehensive solution that eliminates the root causes at mobile devices, mobile platforms, and the core network.

Publication
Proceedings of the 22nd ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security (CCS)