LTE flaws let hackers ‘easily’ spoof presidential alerts

Security vulnerabilities in LTE can allow hackers to “easily” spoof presidential alerts sent to mobile phones in the event of a national emergency.

Using off-the-shelf equipment and open-source software, a working exploit made it possible to send a simulated alert to every phone in a 50,000-seat football stadium with little effort, with the potential of causing “cascades of panic,” said researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder in a paper out this week.

Their attack worked in nine out of 10 tests, they said.

Last year the Federal Emergency Management Agency sent out the first “presidential alert” test using the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system. It was part of an effort to test the new state-of-the-art system to allow any president to send out a message to the bulk of the U.S. population in the event of a disaster or civil emergency.

But the system — which also sends out weather warnings and AMBER alerts — isn’t perfect. Last year amid tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, an erroneous alert warned residents of Hawaii of an inbound ballistic missile threat. The message mistakenly said the alert was “not a drill.”

Although no system is completely secure, many of the issues over the years have been as a result of human error. But the researchers said the LTE network used to transmit the broadcast message is the biggest weak spot.

Because the system uses LTE to send the message and not a traditional text message, each cell tower blasts out an alert on a specific channel to all devices in range. A false alert can be sent to every device in range if that channel is identified.

Making matters worse, there’s no way for devices to verify the authenticity of received alerts.

The researchers said fixing the vulnerabilities would “require a large collaborative effort between carriers, government stakeholders and cell phone manufacturers.” They added that adding digital signatures to each broadcast alert is not a “magic solution,” but would make it far more difficult to send spoofed messages.

A similar vulnerability in LTE was discovered last year, allowing researchers to not only send emergency alerts but also eavesdrop on a victim’s text messages and track their location.

China continues 5G push despite economic slowdown and Huawei setbacks

China will fast-track the issuance of commercial licenses for 5G as part of a national plan to boost consumer spending, said a notice published this week by the National Development and Reform Commission. The move appears to be multifaceted, for 5G plays a key role in China’s bid to lead the global technology race and one of its biggest 5G champions, Huawei, has been facing troubles on a global scale.

In its statement, the economic regulator calls on local governments to support the promotion and showcase of services utilizing the super-fast network technology. Ultra-high definition TVs, virtual/augmented reality handsets and other futuristic products will be eligible for government subsidies, though the regulator didn’t outline the detailed criteria.

The acceleration of 5G licenses comes as Beijing copes with a weakening national economy, a move that will “drum up demand with upgraded technology experiences across devices, automotive and manufacturing leveraging 5G technology,” said Neil Shah, research director at Counterpoint Research, to TechCrunch. 5G is on course to generate 6.3 trillion yuan ($947 billion) worth of economic output and 8 million jobs for China by 2030, according to estimates from the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology.

Beijing has been gearing up to be the world leader in the next-generation network tech, pouring resources into 5G research and infrastructure. But it has been hit with a speed bump overseas as western countries grow increasingly wary of spy threat posed by Chinese 5G equipments. A souped-up domestic drive, therefore, could help neutralize some of the global setbacks faced by its 5G crown jewels like Huawei.

The U.S. and Australia have banned local firms from procuring equipment from Huawei, and Canada and the U.K. are currently reviewing whether to continue using 5G parts made by the Chinese telecom equipment giant. Meanwhile, Huawei is facing a list of criminal charges from the U.S. for stealing state secrets and its financial chief Meng is accused of bank fraud.

“Aaccelerating 5G licenses should indirectly help Huawei gain competitive edge for 5G considering it will be supplying solutions to the world’s largest mobile cellular market, China,” observes Counterpoint’s Shah. “This also gives Huawei an early platform to showcase its technology to the world and attract more global business.”

Huawei has continued with its 5G push despite being dogged by a string of global woes. Last week, the Shenzhen-based conglomerate unviled a 5G chipset for multiple commercial uses across smartphones, home and work. The chip, dubbed the Balong 5000, will be launching in February at a Barcelona tech trade show.

What President Trump Doesn’t Know About ZTE

After meeting with Chinese Vice Premiere Liu He this week, President Trump is still considering easing penalties on Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE over its violation of sanctions against Iran and North Korea. But what Mr. Trump may not realize is that ZTE is also one of the world’s most notorious intellectual property thieves — perhaps even the most notorious of all.

Since stopping Chinese theft of U.S intellectual property is one of the President’s most important trade objectives, Mr. Trump should refuse to ease sanctions against ZTE until it stops its high-tech banditry and starts playing by the rules in intellectual property (IP) matters.

To get a sense of just how egregious ZTE’s behavior truly is, we need only to consult PACER, the national index of federal court cases. A search of PACER reveals that in the U.S. alone, ZTE has been sued for patent infringement an astonishing 126 times just in the last five years. This number is even more shocking when you consider that only a subset of companies who believe their IP rights have been violated by ZTE has the means or the will to spend the millions of dollars needed to wage a multi-year lawsuit in federal courts.

But ZTE’s IP thievery is not confined just to the United States. According to one Chinese tech publication, ZTE has also been sued for patent infringement an additional 100 times in China, Germany, Norway, the Netherlands, India, France, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and other countries. As an intellectual property renegade, ZTE certainly gets around.

Even when it’s not being sued, ZTE thumbs its nose at the traditional rules of fair play in intellectual proper matters, commonly engaging in delay, misrepresentation, and hold out when dealing with patent owners. While ZTE is more than happy to accept royalty payments for the use of its own intellectual property, it rarely if ever pays for the use of others’ IP.

Consider ZTE’s treatment of San Francisco-based Via Licensing Corp, a Swiss-neutral operator of patent pools covering wireless, digital audio, and other building-block components of complex products. Patent pools offer one-stop shopping for product makers to acquire licenses to patents from multiple innovative companies at once. Pools are generally a more efficient, and less litigious, way for product makers to acquire the IP rights they need at reasonable prices.

In 2012, ZTE joined Via’s LTE wireless patent pool, whose members also include Google, AT&T, Verizon, Siemens, China Mobile, and another Chinese tech powerhouse, Lenovo, maker of Motorola-branded smartphones. It helped set the royalty pricing of the pool’s aggregated patent rights, and even received payments from other product makers for their use of ZTE’s own patents within the pool.

But in 2017, precisely when it was ZTE’s turn to pay for its use of other members’ patents in Via’s LTE pool, it suddenly and without ceremony quit the patent pool. Via and its member companies are still trying to get ZTE to pay for its use of their intellectual property — and to abide by the very rules it helped establish in the first place.

Even among much-criticized Chinese companies, ZTE’s behavior is completely outside the norm. Despite what you may hear, some Chinese companies are actually good IP citizens — Lenovo for one. In fact, Via’s various patent pools include more than two dozen Chinese companies who play by the rules.

But ZTE is not one of them. It is a blatant serial IP violator who gives other Chinese companies a bad name. And our government should not reward such behavior.

Ease sanctions on ZTE only when it finally starts respecting intellectual property rights.

Particle brings an LTE cellular model to market for networked devices working off of 2G and 3G

Particle, a developer of networking hardware and software for connected devices, has released an LTE-enabled module for product developers.

The new device specifically targets folks whose devices were reliant on retiring 2G and 3G networks, according to the company, and include built-in cloud and SIM support.

Even as big telecom companies and vendors move ahead with 4G and now 5G networking equipment, those technologies aren’t necessarily the best for most networked devices, according to Particle .

LTE hardware is cheaper, has better battery life, and ranges that are more appropriate for industrial devices that may need to communicate across distances or through obstacles (like walls, other machines, doors, or floors).

Particularly, Particle sees demand for its devices in hard-to-reach or widely dispersed sensor networks — like industrial factory floors or in an agricultural monitoring setting for a farm or field.

“As US carriers are quickly moving to end 2G and 3G support, and global carriers plan for LTE network rollouts, the timing for an LTE strategy is more critical than ever,” according to a statement Bill Kramer, EVP of IoT Solutions at KORE, which provides managed IoT networks, application enablement, location based services

The new LTE product is part of a suite of offerings from Particle — including a device cloud, operating system, and developer toolkit, the company said.

By providing a pre-integrated solution, Particle said that its hardware represents a faster, far less complicated path to market.

“We launched our cellular development kit, the Electron, to give our developer community access to the power of cellular,” said Zach Supalla, Co-Founder and CEO of Particle, in a statement. “The following industrial E Series line made go-to-market with 2G/3G scalable for enterprises. Now with our LTE module, businesses will evolve alongside the quickly-changing cellular landscape without missing a beat.”

Particle’s new lineup now includes two LTE CAT-M1 models (LTE B13 and LTE B2/4/5/12) and is fully certified, low profile, surface mountable for industrial environments, and powered by Qualcomm’s MDM9206 IoT Modem and u-blox’s Sara-R410-02B module.

The new LTE hardware evaluation kit ships for $89 with an evaluation board, a sample temperature sensor, and accessories to build out a proof of concept, the company said. Individual modules are priced at $69.

Particle counts 8,500 customers and more than 140,000 developers among its customers building networking technologies for consumer and industrial devices. The company says its customers range from global energy provider Engie and design studio Ideo to indoor crops provider Grow Labs and coffee pioneer Keurig .

 

A peace plan to end the wireless wars

No one would have predicted that the three of us would ever find ourselves on the same side of the corporate patent wars, let alone speak with one voice about how to end them.

That’s because one of us is the patent chief at a global smartphone maker (and an influential critic of patent licensing abuses); another is the former licensing chief at Apple and current chief executive of a non-practicing entity (NPE) patent licensing company that has been a target of criticism from product manufacturers; while the third is president of a patent pool operator, who has criticized companies on both sides of the patent wars for their gamesmanship, lack of transparency, and litigiousness.

We have come together because we see that patent owners and product makers have become trapped in an endless cycle of demands, counter-demands, and unproductive litigation. Unless we find a way out of this conflict, we will almost certainly see a repeat of yesterday’s costly and wasteful smartphone wars in tomorrow’s wireless connected car sector.

Product makers accuse patent owners of threatening lawsuits and using the expense of the legal process in order to demand extortionate royalties for their patent rights. For their part, patent owners say product makers refuse to pay fair compensation for the patented wireless, audio, and video features that give their products value as communication and entertainment devices.

The truth is, both sides have a point. That’s because patent owners and product makers are caught in a classic “prisoner’s dilemma,” in which the lack of transparency and fair ground rules in patent licensing lead companies on each side of a patent dispute to try to game the other. This only ensures that both sides suffer a negative outcome in outrageously-expensive litigation.

Unlike in the real property business, in intellectual property (IP) licensing there is little or no independent appraisal of the assets (i.e., patents) or transparency as to how prices are determined. And because most patent license agreements are confidential, there is little or no information or “comps” on what others have paid for similar patent rights. Nor are there any widely-accepted ground rules for what constitutes fair negotiating practices between buyers and sellers.

This is especially true in regards to standards-essential wireless patents, which are supposed to be licensed on fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms. But what’s fair or reasonable about the fact that an impossibly-large number of LTE (4G) cellular patents — more than 60,000, in fact — have been declared “standards essential” without any independent evaluation of those patents whatsoever?

That’s right, those 60,000-plus patents have all been self-declared “standards-essential” by companies each seeking their own commercial advantage. What you’ve got is a wireless gold rush — with plenty of fool’s gold posing as real gold.

So the three of us, working with industry leaders on both sides of the patent owner vs. product maker divide, have developed a three-pronged plan for ending the wireless patent wars and creating a more productive and less litigious patent licensing sector.

First, whittle down this ridiculous mountain of self-interested wireless patent claims to the fewer than 2,000 patent families that most experts believe are truly essential to smartphone handset makers. We can do this by excluding duplicative patents, expired patents, patents not in force in major economic markets, and patents for base station, infrastructure, and other innovations not relevant to handset makers. Independent, neutral evaluators will then confirm each patent’s relevance to the LTE standard for handsets.

Second, base royalty prices not on the subjectively-argued value of each individual patent examined in a vacuum, but on the objective value of the entire stack of LTE patents in a phone. A recent court judgment valued that LTE stack at roughly $20 for a smartphone with an average selling price of $324, but with greater price transparency from both sides, the market itself will likely set a rational price for the LTE stack. Royalties can then be paid to patent owners roughly proportionate to each patent owner’s percentage share of the total LTE patent stack.

And third, ensure greater transparency by promoting collective licensing solutions such as patent pools that openly publish their pricing frameworks and offer consistent terms to all licensees. Given the “prisoner’s dilemma” dynamics in patent licensing today, it is unrealistic to expect any one patent owner to unilaterally forego potential business advantage by revealing its pricing strategies. But collective licensing approaches such as patent pools reduce the risks of transparency for everyone.

As the IP journal Intellectual Asset Management recently noted, “There’s a growing sense that a collective approach to licensing could help solve some of the problems of the industry which, in sectors like mobile, has been scarred by long-running and costly disputes between patent owners and potential licensees.”

Our “peace plan” would eliminate many of the incentives and opportunities for gamesmanship in wireless patent licensing. And most importantly, it would help patent owners and product makers avoid a repeat of yesterday’s costly smartphone wars in tomorrow’s connected car, autonomous vehicle, and Internet of Things (IoT) industries.

It’s time for a new realignment in the industry — one in which the conflict is no longer between product maker and patent owner, but between those who license patents on a fair and transparent basis, and those who do not.

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LG Watch Urbane 2nd Edition is the first Android Wear smartwatch with LTE

LG-Watch-Urbane-2nd-Edition-01-1024x769

We already took a look at LG’s revamped Watch Urbane with LTE earlier this year in February and March (hands-on here), the world’s first Android Wear smartwatch with cellular connectivity — meaning it doesn’t have to be tethered to a smartphone to get online. That’s a big deal for evolving the device category to a point where they can truly be useful in their own right. It’s also compatible with iOS, so iPhone owners take note.

LG says the new Watch Urbane “delivers the highest resolution display of any smartwatch currently on the market today.” Its 1.38-inch full circle P-OLED display packs 348 ppi, and it’s been designed with a classic look in mind. LG hopes that its big battery and power-saving mode will see it last right through the day, but we haven’t had a chance to test that yet.

“Three buttons adorn the right side of the LG Watch Urbane 2nd Edition to provide quick access to shortcut settings such as contacts, LG Health, and apps list,” the company said in a statement. “Ambient mode can now be enabled or disabled with a simple press of the crown button. In addition to the 16 included watch faces, fitness-related features such as heart rate tracking, workout tips, and stress level monitoring are also offered.”

Details on release date and pricing are still not available, but expect to see the smartwatch widely available across most markets when it does launch.

Here are the key specs:

  • 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400
  • Android Wear (Cell-connected Version)
  • 1.38-inch P-OLED display (480 x 480 / 348ppi)
  • 44.5 x 14.2mm
  • 4GB memory
  • 570mAh battery
  • Bluetooth 4.1 / Wi-Fi / LTE / 3G
  • Accelerometer / Gyro / Compass / Barometer / PPG / GPS
  • Space Black / Opal Blue / Luxe White / Signature Brown
  • Dust and Water Resistance (IP67)

More information:

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