The early to mid 1980s saw the commercial opening across Europe of public-access mobile communications systems. These cellular systems all used analogue technology, but outside of the Nordic countries no attempt was made to standardize the systems - so the technology adopted differed from country to country. Unfortunately, one thing they did have in common was a total absence of adequate security features, which made them open to abuse by criminals, journalists and all manner of opportunists. User’s calls could be eavesdropped on the air using readily available and comparatively inexpensive interception devices, and there were celebrated cases of journalistic invasion of privacy. A well-known example was the “squidgy” tapes, where mobile telephone calls between members of the British royal family were recorded. Mobile telephone operators and their customers became very concerned.

The operators also had another problem with serious financial consequences. When a mobile phone attempted to connect to a network the only check made on authenticity was to see that the telephone number and the phone’s identity correctly corresponded. These numbers could be intercepted on the air and programmed to new phones creating clones of the original. Clones were used by criminals to run up huge charges for calls which had nothing to do with the legitimate owner. Cloning became very widespread, with criminals placing their “cloning” equipment in cars parked at airports to capture the numbers from business people announcing their arrival back home to their families. It represented a serious financial problem for operators who ended up covering the charges themselves. The problems caused by lack of security in European analogue systems were a significant factor in accelerating the creation and adoption of GSM.

GSM is a standard for digital mobile communications, designed originally for Europe but now adopted all over the world. Being an international standard it brings economy of scale and competition, and it enables users to roam across borders from one network to another. Being digital it brings transmission efficiency and flexibility, and enables the use of advanced cryptographic security. The security problems of the original analogue systems are addressed in GSM by encryption on the air interface of user traffic, in particular voice calls, and authentication by network operators of their customers on an individual basis whenever they attempt to connect to a network, irrespective of where that network may be. From both a technical and a regulatory perspective the use of cryptography in GSM was groundbreaking. Initially manufacturers and operators feared it would add too much complexity to the system, and security agencies were concerned that it may be abused by criminals and terror organizations. The legitimate fears and concerns constrained what was possible, especially with the encryption algorithm, which was designed against a philosophy of “minimum strength to provide adequate security”. Despite this, and the continuing efforts of organized hackers, eavesdropping on the air of GSM calls protected using the original cipher has still to be demonstrated in a real deployment, and with a stronger cipher already available in the wings, any future success will be largely pointless. This doesn’t mean that GSM is free from security weaknesses - the ability to attack it using false base stations is very real.

GSM is the first in an evolving family of technologies for mobile communications. The second member of the family is 3G (or UMTS as it is often referred to in Europe) and the third, and most recent, is LTE (EPS to give it its proper title which is used throughout the main body of this book). With each technology evolution the security features have been enhanced to address learning from its predecessor, as well as to accommodate any changes in system architecture or services. The underlying GSM security architecture has proved to be extremely robust, and consequently has remained largely unchanged with the evolving technology family. It has also been adapted for use in other communications systems, including WLAN, IMS and HTTP. It is characterized by authentication data and encryption key generation being confined to a user’s home network authentication center and personal SIM, the two elements where all user-specific static security data is held. Only dynamic and user session-specific security data goes outside these domains.

3G sees the addition to the GSM security features of user authentication of the access network - to complement user authentication by the network, integrity protection of signalling and the prevention of authentication replay. Start and termination of ciphering is moved from the base station further into the network. Of course the false base station attack is countered. A new suite of cryptographic algorithms based on algorithms open to public scrutiny and analysis is introduced, and changes of regulation governing the export of equipment with cryptographic functionality make their adoption easier for most parts of the world.

LTE heralds the first technology in the family that is entirely packet-switched - so voice security has to be addressed in an entirely different way from GSM and 3G. LTE is a much flatter architecture, with fewer network elements, and is entirely IP-based. Functionality, including security functionality, is migrated to the edge of the network, including encryption functionality which is moved to the edge of the radio network, having been moved from the base station to the radio network controller in the evolution from GSM to 3G. While maintaining compatibility with the security architecture developed for GSM and evolved for 3G, the security functionality has been significantly adapted, enhanced and extended to accommodate the changes that LTE represents, as well as security enhancements motivated by practical experience with 3G. Much of this plays back into 3G itself as new security challenges arise with the advent of femto cells - low-cost end nodes in exposed environments that are not necessarily under the control of the operator of the network to which they are attached.

The book takes the reader through the evolution of security across three generations of mobile, focusing with clarity and rigor on the security of LTE. It is co-authored by a team who continue to be at the heart of the working group in 3GPP responsible for defining the LTE security standards. Their knowledge, expertise and enthusiasm for the subject shines through.

Professor Michael Walker

Chairman of the ETSI Board


This book presents the results of research and specification work by many people over an extended period. Our thanks therefore go to all those who helped make LTE possible through their hard work. In particular, we thank the people working in 3GPP, the standardization body that publishes the LTE specifications, and, especially, the delegates to the 3GPP security working group, SA3, with whom we were working to produce the LTE security specifications over the past years.

We would also like to express our gratitude to our colleagues at Nokia and Nokia Siemens Networks for our longstanding fruitful collaboration. We are particularly indebted to Wolfgang Bücker, Devaki Chandramouli, Jan-Erik Ekberg, Silke Holtmanns, Jan Kall, Raimund Kausl, Christian Markwart, Kaisa Nyberg, Martin Ottl, Jukka Ranta, Manfred Schafer, Peter Schneider, Hans-Jürgen Schwarzbauer, Jose Manuel Tapia Perez, Janne Tervonen, Robert Zaus and Dajiang Zhang who helped us improve the book through their invaluable comments.

Finally, we would like to thank the editing team at Wiley whose great work turned our manuscript into a coherent book. The authors welcome any comments or suggestions for improvements.

Copyright Acknowledgements

The authors would like to include additional thanks and full copyright acknowledgement as requested by the following copyright holders in this book.

© 2009, 3GPPTM. TSs and TRs are the property of ARIB, ATIS CCSA, ETSI, TTA and TTC who jointly own the copyright in them. They are subject to further modifications and are therefore provided here ’as is’ for information purposes only. Further use is strictly prohibited.

© 2010, 3GPPTM. TSs and TRs are the property of ARIB, ATIS CCSA, ETSI, TTA and TTC who jointly own the copyright in them. They are subject to further modifications and are therefore provided here ’as is’ for information purposes only. Further use is strictly prohibited.

© 2010, Nokia Corporation - for permission to reproduce the Nokia Corporation UE icon within Figures 2.1, 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, 6.1, 6.2, 6.3, 7.1 and 14.1.

Please see the individual figure captions for copyright notices throughout the book.


Overview of the Book

Mobile telecommunications systems have evolved in a stepwise manner. A new cellular radio technology has been designed once per decade. Analogue radio technology was dominant in the 1980s and paved the way for the phenomenal success of cellular systems. The dominant second-generation system GSM was introduced in the early 1990s, while the most successful third-generation system 3G – also known as UMTS, especially in Europe – was brought into use in the first years of the first decade of the new millennium.

At the time of writing, the fourth generation of mobile telecommunications systems is about to be introduced. Its new radio technology is best known under the acronym ‘LTE’ (Long Term Evolution). The complete system is named ‘SAE/LTE’, where ‘SAE’ (System Architecture Evolution) stands for the entire system, which allows combining access using the new, high- bandwidth technology LTE with access using the legacy technologies such as GSM, 3G and HRPD. The technical term for the SAE/LTE system is Evolved Packet System (EPS), and we shall be using this term consistently in the book. The brand name of the new system has been chosen to be LTE, and that is the reason why the title of the book is LTE Security.

With the pervasiveness of telecommunications in our everyday lives, telecommunications security has also moved more and more to the forefront of attention. Security is needed to ensure that the system is properly functioning and to prevent misuse. Security includes measures such as encryption and authentication, which are required to guarantee the user’s privacy as well as ensuring revenue for the mobile network operator.

The book will address the security architecture for EPS. This is based on elements of the security architectures for GSM and 3G, but it needed a major redesign effort owing to the significantly increased complexity, and new architectural and business requirements. The book will present the requirements and their motivation and then explain in detail the security mechanisms employed to meet these requirements.

To achieve global relevance, a communication system requires world-wide interoperability that is easiest to achieve by means of standardization. The standardized part of the system guarantees that the entities in the system are able to communicate with each other even if they are controlled by different mobile network operators or manufactured by different vendors. There are also many parts in the system where interoperability does not play a role, such as the internal structure of the network entities. It is better not to standardize wherever it is not necessary because then new technologies can be introduced more rapidly and differentiation is possible among operators as well as among manufacturers, thus encouraging healthy competition.

As an example in the area of security, communication between the mobile device and the radio network is protected by encrypting the messages. It is important that we standardize how the encryption is done and which encryption keys are used, otherwise the receiving end could not do the reverse operation and recover the original content of the message. On the other hand, both communicating parties have to store the encryption keys in such a way that no outsider can get access to them. From the security point of view, it is important that this be done properly but we do not have to standardize how it is done, thus leaving room for the introduction of better protection techniques without the burden of standardizing them first. The emphasis of our book is on the standardized parts of EPS security, but we include some of the other aspects as well.

The authors feel that there will be interest in industry and academia in the technical details of SAE/LTE security for quite some time to come. The specifications generated by standardization bodies only describe how to implement the system (and this only to the extent required for interoperability), but almost never inform readers about why things are done the way they are. Furthermore, specifications tend to be readable only by a small group of experts and lack the context of the broader picture. This book is meant to fill this gap by providing first-hand information from insiders who participated in decisively shaping SAE/LTE security in the relevant standardization body, 3GPP, and can therefore explain the rationale for the design decisions in this area.

The book is based on versions of 3GPP specifications from March 2010 but corrections approved by June 2010 were still taken into account. New features will surely be added into these specifications in later versions and there will most probably also be further corrections to the existing security functionality. For the obvious reason of timing, these additions cannot be addressed in this book.

The book is intended for telecommunications engineers in research, development and technical sales and their managers as well as engineering students who are familiar with architectures of mobile telecommunications systems and interested in the security aspects of these systems. The book will also be of interest to security experts who are looking for examples of the use of security mechanisms in practical systems. Both readers from industry and from academia should be able to benefit from the book. The book is probably most beneficial to advanced readers, with subchapters providing sufficient detail so that the book can also be useful as a handbook for specialists. It can also be used as textbook material for an advanced course, and especially the introductory parts of each chapter, when combined, give a nice overall introduction to the subject.

The book is organized as follows. Chapter 2 gives the necessary background information on cellular systems, relevant security concepts, standardization matters and so on. As explained earlier, LTE security relies heavily on security concepts introduced for the predecessor systems. Therefore, and also to make the book more self-contained, Chapters 3, 4 and 5 are devoted to security in legacy systems, including GSM and 3G, and security aspects of cellular–WLAN interworking.

Chapter 6 provides an overall picture of the EPS security architecture. The next four chapters provide detailed information about the core functionalities in the security architecture. Chapter 7 is devoted to authentication and key agreement which constitute the cornerstones for the whole security architecture. Chapter 8 shows how user data and signalling data is protected in the system, including protecting confidentiality and integrity of the data. A very characteristic feature in cellular communication is the possibility of handing over the communication from one base station to another. Security for handovers and other mobility issues is handled in Chapter 9. Another cornerstone of the security architecture is the set of cryptographic algorithms that are used in the protection mechanisms. The algorithms used in EPS security are introduced in Chapter 10.

Major dependencies among chapters


In the design of EPS, it has been taken into account already from the beginning how interworking with access technologies that are not defined by 3GPP is arranged. Also, inter- working with legacy 3GPP systems has been designed into the EPS system. These two areas are discussed in detail in Chapter 11.

The EPS system is exclusively packet-based; there are no circuit-switched elements in it. This implies, in particular, that voice services have to be provided on top of IP packets. The security for such a solution is explained in Chapter 12.

Partially independently of the introduction of EPS, 3GPP has specified solutions that enable the deployment of base stations covering very small areas, such as in private homes. This type of base station may serve restricted sets of customers (e.g. people living in a house), but open usage in hotspots or remote areas is also envisaged. These home base stations are also planned for 3G access, not only for LTE access. Such a new type of base station may be placed in a potentially vulnerable environment not controlled by the network operator and therefore many new security measures are needed, compared to conventional base stations. These are presented in detail in Chapter 13.

Finally, Chapter 14 contains a discussion of both near-term and far-term future challenges in the area of securing mobile communications.

Many of the chapters depend on earlier ones, as can be seen from the above descriptions. However, it is possible to read some chapters without reading first all of the preceding ones. Also, if the reader has prior knowledge of GSM and 3G systems and their security features, the first four chapters can be skipped. This kind of knowledge could have been obtained, for example, by reading the book UMTS Security [Niemi and Nyberg 2003]. The major dependencies among the chapters of the book are illustrated in .