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Lawmakers to get briefing on cell network security flaw

Lawmakers to get briefing on cell network security flaw
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The Energy and Commerce Committee next week will be briefed by U.S. wireless operators on a security vulnerability in the global cellphone network that experts say may have allowed other countries to eavesdrop on officials’ private conversations.

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A recent “60 Minutes” segment displayed the extent of the weakness, sparking concern across government. Federal agencies vowed to investigate and Capitol Hill has begun looking into the issue.

“Anyone with a phone is exposed to possible security breaches,” Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said in a Tuesday statement.

Most telecom companies use decades-old protocols known as Signaling System No. 7 or SS7 to direct mobile communications around the world. The network helps keep calls connected as users bounce from cell tower to cell tower, and routes text messages to their final location.

It’s also how people get service when they travel to another country, outside the reach of their normal carrier.

But these protocols are seen as insecure and experts say anyone who can gain entry to the SS7 system can intercept calls and texts.

“The briefing will provide a better understanding of the role of SS7 in our global communications networks and any security flaws in the SS7 protocol. Identifying these flaws is a critical component to protecting the privacy and security of folks back home,” Upton and Walden said Tuesday.

Committee leaders from both sides of the aisle last month wrote to AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, CenturyLink and Frontier Communications asking them for briefings on the security flaw.

The briefing, which will be behind closed doors, will be given by technical experts from U.S. wireline and wireless network operators, according to a release. It was not immediately clear who will testify.

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), who allowed his device to be hacked during the “60 Minutes” segment, has also requested a hearing for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

The Energy and Commerce briefing is scheduled for May 19.