The Untold Secrets of Operational Wi-Fi Calling Services: Vulnerabilities, Attacks, and Countermeasures

Tian Xie, Guan-Hua Tu, Bangjie Yin, Chi-Yu Li, Chunyi Peng, Mi Zhang, Hui Liu, Xiaoming Liu

Since 2016, all of four major U.S. operators have rolled out nationwide Wi-Fi calling services. They are projected to surpass VoLTE (Voice over LTE) and other VoIP services in terms of mobile IP voice usage minutes in 2018. They enable mobile users to place cellular calls over Wi-Fi networks based on the 3GPP IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem) technology. Compared with conventional cellular voice solutions, the major difference lies in that their traffic traverses untrustful Wi-Fi networks and the Internet. This exposure to insecure networks may cause the Wi-Fi calling users to suffer from security threats. Its security mechanisms are similar to the VoLTE, because both of them are supported by the IMS. They include SIM-based security, 3GPP AKA (Authentication and Key Agreement), IPSec (Internet Protocol Security), etc. However, are they sufficient to secure Wi-Fi calling services? Unfortunately, our study yields a negative answer. We conduct the first study of exploring security issues of the operational Wi-Fi calling services in three major U.S. operators' networks using commodity devices. We disclose that current Wi-Fi calling security is not bullet-proof and uncover four vulnerabilities which stem from improper standard designs, device implementation issues and network operation slips. By exploiting the vulnerabilities, together with several state-of-the-art computer visual recognition technologies, we devise two proof-of-concept attacks: user privacy leakage and telephony harassment or denial of voice service (THDoS); both of them can bypass the security defenses deployed on mobile devices and the network infrastructure. We have confirmed their feasibility and simplicity using real-world experiments, as well as assessed their potential damages and proposed recommended solutions.

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