Documents from the National Security Agency indicate U.S. spies were confident they could get around standard cellphone encryption technology.
The documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edwin Snowden described a capability that telecom experts described as sweeping and an indication that intelligence services worldwide could probably listen into just about anyone they wanted to, the Washington Post reported.
"If the NSA knows how to do this, presumably other intelligence agencies, which may be more hostile to the United States, have discovered how to do this, too," said Matthew Blaze, a cryptology expert at the University of Pennsylvania.
Blaze and other technical experts told the Post the weak point was in A5/1, a commonly used cellphone encryption technology that the NSA apparently cracked without too much difficulty. David Wagner, a computer scientist at the University of California at Berkeley told the news paper A5/1 "was designed 30 years ago, and you wouldn't expect a 30-year-old car to have the latest safety mechanisms."
The Post said mobile phone carriers have been urged in recent years to upgrade to more-secure encryption systems, but most have not yet done so. Most cell networks worldwide still operate on older 2G networks with relatively weak encryption, and a skilled hacker has ways of maneuvering a phone on to a 2G network even when better ones are available.