Much of the discussion of security threats to mobile phones revolves around smartphones, but researchers have found that less advanced “feature phones,” still used by the majority of people around the world, also are vulnerable to attack.
Feature phones have Web browsing, MP3 players, and other programs standard voice-only phones lack, but they have less computing power and feature integration than smartphones.
Because security research on feature phones has been eclipsed by research on popular smartphones like Android and iPhone, mobile researcher Collin Mulliner said he decided to turn his attention to the lower-end phones. After all, so many people are still using them. (Mulliner and another researcher demonstrated an SMS-type attack on my iPhone at the BlackHat security conference in 2009).
Mulliner, a PhD student at Technical University Berlin, and one of his master’s degree students, Nico Golde, discovered a way to knock people using feature phones off the mobile network and even crash the phones entirely. They did this by writing special software to send SMS-type messages to the phone that used special characters, which caused the device to disconnect from the network, Mulliner told CNET today. In some cases, the phone would just shut down after several such messages were sent, he said.