Columbia University Discovers Cisco Phone Hack

By Brittany Walters-Bearden January 07, 2013

There’s new cause for companies to be worried about their network safety, user privileges and laissez-faire BYOD policies. At the Chaos Communications conference December 29, it was revealed that Cisco phones are vulnerable to eavesdropping hacks. 

The vulnerability was discovered by doctoral candidate Ang Cui and Professor Sal Stolfo of Columbia University while they were working on a grant from the U.S. Defense Department.

Professor Stolfo warned, “On the dark side, these phones are sold worldwide. Any government that would like to peer into the private lives of citizens could use this.” 

He called it a “great opportunity to create a low-cost surveillance system that is already deployed.”

Cui demonstrated the hack for NBC News, revealing that in a matter of seconds, a small device pre-loaded with software could be plugged into a port on the phone and rewrite its IP software. This vulnerability exists because the phones make routine connections with a central server looking for updated instructions.

According to Bob Sullivan of NBC News, Cisco listed 15 phone models impacted by the threat in an announcement sent to their customers in December. Despite the implications of this announcement, Cisco maintains that, with only a few exceptions, hackers would need physical access to a telephone in order to execute the attack.

The team at Columbia says that these “rare” exceptions are not as innocuous as Cisco might have consumers believe; an e-mail attachment with a virus could easily execute the attack. 

Cui said, “You could attack the network, and then attack a single person’s phone – say, the CEO, at home.”

This potential threat is a great reminder for all companies, not just those using the popular phone system, to keep their employees apprised of online safety. Companies should evaluate their user privileges, host regular employee training on network safety, and consider revising their BYOD policies to ensure that they are safe from outside attacks.




Edited by Braden Becker

TechZone360 Contributor

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