Security Analysis of 4G LTE Networks

Security Analysis of 4G LTE Networks
Venkatesh Chinta
Rambabu Atmakuri
Abstract— The goal of 3GPP Long Term Evolution/System Architecture Evolution (LTE/SAE) is to move mobile cellular wireless
technology into its fourth generation. The main unique challenges of fourth-generation technology is how to close a security gap through
which a single compromised or malicious device can jeopardize an entire mobile network because of the open nature of these ne tworks.
This paper, however, identifies and details the vulnerabilities because the EPC architecture inherits most of the IP-specific security
vulnerabilities and also vulnerability in handover key management. So attackers can jeopardize secure communication between users and
mobile networks. In this paper, to overcome these key exposures, attacks on IP layer can eliminate by implementation of IPSec.
Index Terms— Attacks, authentication and key agreement, ip layer, ipsec, lte networks, security in lte, security analysis, vulnerabilities
he Evolved Packet System (EPS) brings two new major
ingredients into the 3rd Generation Partnership Project
(3GPP) environment: the radio network Evolved
Universal Terrestrial Radio Access Network (E-UTRAN) with
a new radio interface, and the Internet Protocol (IP)-based core
network Evolved Packet Core (EPC). The flat all-IP
architecture allows all radio access protocols to terminate in
one node called evolved NodeB (eNodeB). In the Universal
Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS), the functionality
of eNodeB was divided into NodeB and the Radio Network
Controller (RNC). The placement of the radio access protocols
in eNodeB makes them vulnerable to unauthorized access
because eNodeB is located in unattended place. Further,
internetworking with radio access networks exposes the
vulnerability of these networks to direct external threats and
carries grave implications for LTE security. Aside from the
obvious security risk of intercepted wireless communications
transmitted to and from user equipment (UE), there are
security risks traditionally associated with the fixed line
Internet now pertinent to 4G mobile network operators. This is
a significant departure for mobile operators because in prior
generations of cellular networks, security was baked into
standard network functions and integral to the whole system.
In the LTE networks the main threats are the IP networks
open the doors for intruders, hackers, and other malicious
traffic generators. The core network is exposed could be
exposed due to flatter IP topology. Sniffing on communication
between EPC & and other components in the LTE. The style
will adjust your fonts and line spacing. Use italics for
emphasis; do not underline.
To over come the above mentioned threats the components
in the LTE share information between them by implementing
confidentiality, integrity and authenticity. The data or traffic
must be authenticated in network to over come denial of service
In this paper we identified the security vulnerabilities in LTE
networks and it leads to defacing network and future key
exposure due to desynchronization attacks in handover key
management. We provide a solution to eliminate all these
vulnerabilities including desynchronization attacks by
implementing IPSec protocol. IPSec protocol is designed by
Cisco and Microsoft and it has a feature of long term security
2.1 Design of EPS Security
The EPS architecture contains mainly Evolved Universal
Terrestrial network (E-UTRAN) and the Evolved packet core
(EPC). The E-UTRAN supports IP network architecture to
deliver data services. EPC will serve as the equivalent of GPRS
networks (via the Mobility Management Entity, Serving
Gateway and PDN Gateway subcomponents). EUTRAN
consists only of enodeBs on the network side. The enodeB
performs tasks similar to those performed by the nodeBs and
RNC (radio network controller) together in UTRAN. The aim
of this simplification is to reduce the latency of all radio
interface operations. eNodeBs are connected to each other via
the X2 interface, and they connect to the packet switched (PS)
core network via the S1 interface. The architectural change has
shifted the termination point of the air interface from the RNC
in the UMTS to eNodeB in the EPS. Such a termination point
would constitute a security weakness.
The eNodeB is located at different geographical exposed
location and connected to the core network over the IP layer.
To make eNodeB secure, there are two layers of LTE security
protect traffic passing through it. The first layer, called the
Access Stratum (AS) layer (see (a) in Fig. 1), it enables security
between the UE and eNodeB. This layer is created when data
in radio links need to be exchanged and protects the signaling
and user data. In contrast, the second layer, called the
Nonaccess Stratum (NAS) layer (see (b) in Fig. 1), remains
active whenever the UE is registered to the network and is
responsible for securing the signaling in the region between
the UE and the Mobility Management Entity (MME). Concerns
about insecure links beyond the MME are the responsibility.
A C-plane signaling traffic path, designated as S1-C,
is established between a UE and an MME, and a path for the
U-plane data traffic, designated as S1-U, is set up between a
UE and a Serving Gateway (S-GW). This new change implies
not only physically separate paths for these two types of traffic
but also separate key management for encryption and
integrity protection.
[3] Fig.1: EPS Architecture
2.2 Key Hierarchy in EPS-AKA
The key hierarchy in the EPS is considerably elaborate and
extended for efficient managements of the increased number
of keys. The MME hosts the Access Security Management
Entity (ASME) to handle access security and acts as a key
distributor in the EPS security. The first intermediate keys are
derived and distributed to the MME to protect the NAS layer.
Further, the second intermediate keys are derived in the MME
and distributed to eNodeB to protect the AS layer.
Each time a UE registers itself with an EPS network, an
Authentication and Key Agreement (EPS-AKA), occurs
between a UE and the MME on behalf of the Home Subscriber
Server (HSS)/Authentication Center (AuC). The EPS-AKA is
the EPS security mechanism to execute 1) authentication
between a UE and an MME on behalf of the HSS/AuC, and 2)
a key agreement between a UE and an MME as well as
between a UE and eNodeB. Once mutual authentication
succeeds the two parties generate the first intermediate key,
KASME, from the permanent master key, K. In the course of
performing EPS-AKA, the HSS/AuC delivers the first
intermediate key to the MME after binding to the serving
network identity. Clearly, the evolution to LTE and its flat allIP core network emphasizes the urgent need for a revision of
the trust relationships between operators and network
components. Any threats arising from untrusted networks are
alleviated in the EPS by a new feature, namely cryptographic
network separation. Network separation tries to isolate the
impact of any security breach in the local network and prevent
its spillover to other networks. This is achieved by binding
any cryptographic keys to the identity of the serving network
for which the keys are intended. The UE can ensure that it
communicates with the intended serving network by
authenticating an identity in the current network. In the
UMTS, a UE was unable to authenticate a serving network.
The local master key, KASME, also called the first
intermediate key, is valid at a maximum interval determined
by the timing of the next EPS-AKA procedure. The UE can
choose to invoke the EPS-AKA protocol whenever the serving
MME changes because of roaming to another serving network.
In the same situation, the UE also can choose to transfer the
security context between the old and new MMEs in an effort
to lower the overhead of the full EPS-AKA. The UE may, of
course, also need to run the EPSAKA protocol periodically
without interrupting service. Hence, the frequency of EPSAKA runs is rather random or configurable by a network
operator. In general, the lifetime of KASME varies from a few
hours to a couple of days. As shown in Fig. 2, the MME
derives three keys from KASME. The two transient keys,
denoted as KNASenc and KNASint, are used for encryption and
integrity checks, respectively, of signaling traffic in the NAS.
The third key, denoted as KeNB, is the second intermediate key
and is specific for an eNodeB and a UE. After being
transferred to eNodeB, KeNB is used to derive another three
transient keys (see Fig. 2). Among these three keys, two are
used to encrypt and check the integrity of Radio Resource
Control (RRC) signaling traffic in the AS (i.e.,KRRCenc and
KRRCint). The last key is used to encrypt U-plane data traffic in
the AS (i.e., KUPenc). The UE should be able to derive from the
permanent master key the two intermediate keys, the two
transient keys for the NAS, and the three transient keys for the
The key used for the AS protection keys (i.e., KeNB) requires
updating whenever a UE serves a different eNodeB as a result
of an inter-eNodeB handover. The EPS security uses only a
single set of KASME and defines the handover key update
without involving an MME. MME involvement at every intereNodeB handover levies excessive computational and
signaling loads and causes communication delays in the EPC.
To avoid these MME problems, the EPS permits the KeNB
update to occur directly between eNodeBs.
The LTE networks uses flat IP protocol to connect the
components such as between eNodeB’s or between EPC core
and eNodeB’s. The0.n EPC inherits the IP Specific
Vulnerabilities in LTE networks
3.1 LTE Security Threats
The main threats which are inherited from IP Protocol
1) Eaves Dropping
The attacker knows the information between communication
2) Data Modification
The attacker can tamper or modify the data between the
communication entities
3) Identity Spoofing
The attacker can spoof identity and acts as a legitimate entity.
4) Man-in the-middle Attacks
The attacker sniffs the information and gains sensitive
information which can achieve by a spoofing attack.
5) Denial-of-Service attacks
The attacker can generate malicious large traffic and it leads to
unavailability of resources or network down.
3.2 Attacks
A compromised eNodeB or fake base station is placed in
network and then attacker sniffs the user data because IP
protocols communicate among the parties in plain-text.
Further home eNodeB keys i.e KeNB can be derived by
performing only horizontal key derivations. Horizontal keys
are derived from old KeNB. Hence the future communications
are also exposed. It occurs when by sending spoofed NCC
values to target eNodeB at a high value so it only performs
horizontal key derivation. The keys are also exposed with out
launching desynchronization attacks because all the data are
in plain text between eNodeB and MME.
3.2.1 Spoofing Attack
The attacker can spoof and acts as a legitimate eNodeB’s
or MME then gains user’s credentials and exploit it.
3.2.2 Denial of Service
Generation of malicious t1raffic from non authenticated
devices leads to network down.
3.2.3 Sniffing
The intruder can intercept all the data among networks by
launching a Man-in the-Middle attack which exposes the
victim’s data. By this attack the attacker knows passwords and
other sensitive information.
[6] Fig.3 Insecure link in LTE network
Source [4]: The IPSec standard provides a method to manage
authentication and data protection between multiple crypto
peers engaging in secure data transfer. IPSec includes the
Internet Security Association and Key Management Protocol
(ISAKMP)/Oakley and two IPSec IP protocols: Encapsulating
Security Protocol (ESP) and Authentication Header (AH)[4].
IPSec uses symmetrical encryption algorithms for data
protection. Symmetrical encryption algorithms are more
efficient and easier to implement in hardware. These
algorithms need a secure method of key exchange to ensure
ISAKMP/Oakley protocols provide this capability.
This solution requires a standards-based way to secure data
from eavesdropping and modification. IPSec provides such a
method. IPSec provides a choice of transform sets so that a
user can choose the strength of their data protection.
4.1 How It Works
As with the TCP/IP protocol suite, IPSec protocols work in
unison to create a secure communication. The whole process
can be broken down into three phases:
· Determine if a communication requires IPSec
· Negotiate and establish a secure connection
· Transmit the data
4.1.1 Step 1: Policy, Selector, and Action
The active IPSec policy and its selectors determine if a
communication requires IPSec. If a packet matches a selector
within the active policy then the specified action is performed.
If that action is only to block or permit a packet then steps 2
and 3 are skipped. The process only proceeds to step 2 if a
selector’s action is to use AH and/or ESP. It is important to
note that if IPSec is enabled on a host then every packet goes
through this step.
Usually, it is very important to create a mirror of each
selector. In other words, if one selector permits traffic from
any address to any address on TCP 80 then another rule is
required to permit traffic from any address on TCP 80 to any
address. This permits the two-way flow of communication.
Under W2K, checking Mirrored automatically creates the
mirrored selector. Other platforms may require that the
mirrored selector be entered.
4.1.2 Step 2: IKE
IKE creates the keys that the subsequent steps will use to
encrypt and sign packets. However, IKE is faced with a
problem. If those keys are sent over an insecure connection
then someone could “steal” those keys and view or modify the
packets we are attempting to secure. In essence, IKE is faced
with a chicken and egg problem: a secure connection requires
keys but it can’t send the keys until it has a secure connection.
To tackle this problem IKE is broken in to two phases. Phase 1
solves the problem of creating a secure channel over an
insecure connection with a mathematical algorithm that
permits anyone to view the communication occurring between
the hosts and yet be unable to capture or predict the key that
results from this communication. This algorithm is called the
Diffie-Hellman (DH) key exchange.
When configuring Windows 2000 IPSec, there are two DH
groups to select from: Low and Medium (there is no High).
The important thing to know about DH groups is that it
determines the strength of the phase 1 keys that are generated.
It is strongly recommended that Medium be selected.
Unfortunately, DH is extremely CPU intensive. As a
compromise W2K, as recommended by the RFC, only
generates a DH key at the start of a communication and not
for each packet sent. In fact, the same DH keys can be used for
multiple, independent communication streams between two
devices. If necessary, IPSec can be configured to generate new
DH keys for each communication and periodically recreate
those keys during a communication.
Phase 2 uses the DH keys to create a secure channel. This
secure channel is used to create a subsequent set of keys that
AH and ESP will use to encrypt and sign packets. It is
important to note that phase 2 requires the phase 1 keys to
1. Device A communicates to Device B using IKE on UDP 500
2. Each side generates a Diffie-Hellman key
3. Device A and Device B create an encrypted connection
using the keys from step 2
4. Device A and Device B negotiate the highest level of
security supported on both devices
5. Device A and Device B create phase 2 keys for use with
IPSec (AH and/or ESP)
6. IPSec communication (AH and/or ESP) begins using phase
2 keys created in step 5
Step 1 deserves some special attention. As mentioned
earlier IPSec can act as a packet filter: passing packets that
match a selector or dropping packets that do not match. IKE is
treated specially by IPSec: UDP 500 is automatically accepted.
If it were not then a chicken and egg problem would arise:
device A needs to negotiate a secure channel with device B, to
do so it must connect on UDP 500, in order to make that
connection it must establish a secure connection, to do so it
must connect on UDP 500…. Obviously this is unacceptable.
The IPSec RFCs require that IKE packets are recognized as
such and processed appropriately.
4.1.3 Step 3: AH and ESP
AH and ESP perform separate but similar functions. AH
verifies the identity of the sender using IKE Phase 2 keys to
sign the IP packet (authentication and integrity) and keeps
track of the packet sequence and lifetime of the phase 2 keys
(anti-replay). AH does not encrypt the packet (confidentiality)
and it works at the network layer. ESP can verify the identity
of the sender, sign the transport layer, and keep track of the
packet sequence. However, it also has the ability to encrypt
the packet, but only encrypts the transport layer and higher.
Both AH and ESP are available in Transport and Tunnel
mode. As discussed previously, Tunnel mode encapsulates the
entire packet. Although AH supports tunnel mode, in practice
it is not usually deployed in this fashion since it provides no
additional protection over Transport mode. If tunnel mode is
required, ESP is typically used. Since ESP tunnel mode
protects the entire original packet AH is not necessary.
As can be seen, the header and trailer are not encrypted.
AH keeps its HMAC in the header and ESP stores its HMAC
in the trailer. When the destination device receives the packet
it calculates the HMAC and compares it to the HMAC in the
trailer. Not encrypting the HMAC allows IPSec to quickly
determine if the packet has been modified and, if so, discard
the packet.
4.1.4 Interacting With IPSec
Years of experience with IPv4 have exposed us to various
aspects of TCP/IP communication: transport protocols have
port numbers, NAT and proxy servers have become standard
networking features, we have learned to accept replay attacks
Figure 4 The IPSec Transport mode and tunnel mode
as vulnerability, and Network IDS is considered a requirement
by many security professionals. IPSec changes the rules on
how and what we deploy in our networks and in some cases
we no longer need accept certain limitations of TCP/IP.
Unlike many transport layer protocols, such as TLS, TCP,
and UDP, ESP uses only a protocol number. AH also uses a
protocol number as is typical of network layer protocols.
Specifically, AH uses protocol number 51 and ESP uses
protocol number 50. If the two are used together then the
protocol number of the outer most protocol is exposed. AH
and ESP in transport mode will expose protocol 51 whereas
ESP in tunnel mode and AH in transport mode will expose
protocol 50.
As was mentioned in previous sections, AH and ESP may
not work with a proxy server or NAT. More generically, IPSec,
in either transport or tunnel mode, does not work with a
device that modifies an IP packet. This is because AH and ESP
sign their portions of each packet. AH signs the entire IP
packet with the exception of a few fields that must change in
normal IP communication (such as TTL). Tunnel mode allows
the new IP header to be modified enroute, unless AH in
transport mode is also used, but the rest of the packet is still
off limits. The result is that regardless if you use AH or ESP
the payload is always off limits for modifications, tunnel or
transport, and the IP and transport header information may
also be off limits.
Recently Network and Host IDS have become an important
tool in the security professional’s toolbox. NIDS are basically
protocol analyzers. They capture packets on the network,
analyze the packets to determine if it is malicious, alert
security administrators of malicious packets, and in some
cases will terminate communication containing malicious
All IDS’ work on the premise that the packet is transparent
and that the contents are in an expected position. IPSec
complicates this by encrypting portions of the packet, ESP, or
moving the location of parts of a packet, tunnel mode. The
solution will depend on the organization. Tunnel mode moves
the original IP header and Transport layers from the expected
location within the packet. However, tunnel mode is almost
exclusively used between gateways. NIDS will need to be
located inside of each gateway, prior to IPSec tunneling being
applied, to permit the NIDS to work. Since transport mode
does not relocate important packet information, in principle
NIDS will work with transport mode. If ESP is used with
encryption there is no simple solution, however. One solution
is to not use ESP with encryption on a network that requires
NIDS. Another solution is to use ESP in tunnel mode to a
gateway. Once at the gateway the IPSec is decrypted and
available for inspection by NIDS before reaching the next
gateway, which encrypts the packet before sending it to the
final destination. Potentially a Host IDS that provides packet
analysis can be used. This solution only works if the HIDS is
able to inspect the packet after the packet has been decrypted.
HIDS solutions can quickly become extremely expensive since
every host in the network requires the software. Replay and
man-in-the-middle attacks are difficult to protect against.
Fortunately, they are somewhat difficult to carry out since
they require direct access to the network the systems use.
Replay attacks capture the packets of a real session, alter the
packets, and then retransmit the packets. The end-point hosts
believe they are communicating directly with each other, but
in fact they are communicating with a server in between. This
is attack is extremely difficult to detect. As has been
mentioned many times, IPSec provides anti-replay protection.
This is done by using a sliding window. IPSec gives each
packet a sequence number. If a 64- packet sliding window is
used then a host will accept packets 1 – 64 without problem.
When packet 65 arrives the host will no longer accept packet
number 1. Likewise, when packet 100 arrives, any packets
below number 36 are dropped. In addition, IPSec does not
accept duplicate sequence numbers. In other words, once
packet 125 arrives for a given IPSec session, IPSec does not
permit another packet 125. This also means that IPSec keys
must be renegotiated and a new IPSec session established
before IPSec sequence numbers wrap. This scheme makes
replay attacks very difficult since the attacker only has a
narrow window of time to retransmit the packet. IPSec
provides only limited man-in-the-middle protection. This
protection is dependent on authentication method selected. In
W2K, 3rd party certificates, Kerberos, and shared secret are
supported. Of these, only 3rd party certificates provide strong
man-in the- middle protection.
5 Simulation
In NS3 (Network Simulator), it has a lot of modules, known as
networking models. We consider LENA module which is used
for LTE Simulation in ns3 simulator. LENA was developed by
CTTC and it is open-source project.
By using LENA module we ran a simulation with enabling
traces and packet capture i.e: pcap in LTE simulation code.
After simulation the LTE code, it produces pcap files, traces
and stats. By these results we can understand the complete
message flow in LTE networks. Pcaps is a library function in
ns3 that captures all packets in network.
To understand pcap a special tool, Wireshark is used. It
analyzes the packets from top layer to bottom layer. LTE uses
flat IP and due to this all the data in the network is in plain
text. We can read information what the user or entities send.
All the data is exposed in pcap file. In the same manner the
attacker also captures in LTE network and exploits the results.
5.1 Implementation of IPSec
We simulated IPSec protocol in GNS3 or in Cisco Packet
Tracer. Every eNodeB and other components in LTE network
such as MME, HSS and other components consists of
networking devices like router, switches and etc. Now we are
considering two routers at two eNodeB’s and IPSec protocol
between them was established as show in figure below. In
order to establish IPSec in their routers we have to configure
IOS commands in those devices. We selected Diffie-Hellman
Key exchange protocol for encryption and authentication, for
integrity we selected a HMAC signature mechanism.
Fig 5 Simulation output in Cisco Packet Tracer
In GNS3 tool we can capture packets in network and we can
understand by the Wireshark tool. All the data between
entities is encrypted and protected with integrity. If an
attacker sniffs the traffic then the data can’t decrypt with out a
By this implementation of IPSec the communication between
peers is encrypted and protected by HMAC signature. The
IPSec protocol protect from following attacks they are:
1) Eaves Dropping
2) Data Modification
3) Identity Spoofing
4) Man-in the-middle Attacks
5) Denial-of-Service attacks
We were concerned that forward key separation in handover
key management in the 3GPP LTE/SAE network can be
threatened because of what are known as rogue base station
attacks. Although by implementing IPSec between base
stations minimizes the effect of the attacks.
Our work is mainly derived from “Security Analysis of
Handover Key Management in 4G LTE/SAE Networks” by
Chan-Kyu Han and Hyoung-Kee Choi and “IPSec” by Scott
[1] “3GPP System Architecture Evolution (SAE); Security Architecture
(Release 11),” 3GPP TS 33.401, Version 11.2.0, Dec. 2011.
[2] “Security Analysis of Handover Key Management in 4G LTE/SAE
Networks” Chan-Kyu Han and Hyoung-Kee Choi
[3] “A Robust Secure DS-AKA with Mutual Authentication for LTE-A M.
Prasad and R. Manoharan
[4] “IPSec Tutorial” by Scott Cleven-Mulcahy,SANS Instiute.
[4] CISCO IOS for more information refer
[5] A USIM-Based UniformAccess Authentication Framework inMobile
Communication Xinghua Li,1 JianfengMa,1 YoungHo Park,2 and Li Xu3
[6] Cisco Packet Tracer Software available at
[7] Source Internet
Venkatesh Chinta received Bachelor of
Technology in 2011. He is pursuing his
Networks and Information Security, Malla
Reddy College of Engineering,Hyderabad.
A.Ram Babu M.Tech working as a
Assistant Professor in CSE Department at
Malla Reddy College of Engineering,
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