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German researcher Karsten Nohl asserts that the major telecom companies are deliberately ignoring serious SIM card vulnerabilities he discovered in order to use them to for “silent” software updates, leaving users’ mobile devices susceptible to hacks.

Nohl, who demonstrated he can compromise a SIM card with a single malicious text, says the companies desire to maintain the backdoor hole in the devices security means the devices are vulnerable to call interception and compromised contactless payment transactions.

The researcher says that in the absence of documented abuse by criminal elements, the telecoms will continue to ignore the vulenrabiltites. “We thought our story was one of white-hat hacking preventing criminal activities,” Nohl said. “As there is no crime, so no investigation”.

Nohl previously discovered two flaws that when combined can be used to compromise the mobile devices by way of specially designed SMS text messages circumvent the devices’ sandboxing features.

The first bug allows an attacker to install executable code in the SIM card’s secure storage, but the code can not be utilized unless the sandbox can be defeated, and the second flaw allows just that.

“What Nohl discovered was that by referencing a variable which referenced a variable which referenced an array he could bypass the bounds check that JavaCard is supposed to perform. Create an array of 10 elements, reference it from a distance and address the eleventh location, and secured memory is yours to explore – and rewrite – as you wish. Exploiting this to malicious ends is left as an exercise for the reader,” The Register stated.

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