Every day you use your mobile phone to make phone calls and send SMS messages. But did you ever wonder if the communications being carried out by your cell phone are safe? Are they encrypted and protected from hackers? Because if these communications are not encrypted, then it can present serious privacy and personal data concern for you!
Are Cell Phone Calls Encrypted?
There is not a simple answer to this question. In general, yes, cell phone calls are encrypted but the level of encryption depends on your network (GSM, 3G, 4G, and 5G).
To better understand the level of encryption offered by different networks, let’s look at each type:
Phone calls or SMS made using the GSM are encrypted but the level of encryption used by the GSM is very weak. The most common type of encryption used by the GSM is “64-bit A5/1 encryption”. If you search around, you can see that it doesn’t cost much to eavesdrop on any GSM phone call. If a hacker is really motivated to listen to your voice call, they can do so very easily.
But hackers listening to your conversations over the GSM is not the only concern. There are other parties such as the cellular company (service provider), government, or anyone with access to the mobile network equipment. They can listen to your conversation if they want!
GSM includes the GSM and the 2G protocol (edge) as well.
As compared to the 2G or GSM networks, 3G offers a little better level of encryption and privacy. Instead of using the old 64-bit A5/1 encryption, the 3G network uses the KASUMI block cipher.
Another upgrade with the 3G networks is that it allows the user equipment for network authentication. As a result, the user devices can easily identify the actual network and stop an impersonator from intercepting and eavesdropping on the phone calls.
But just because the KASUMI block cipher offers better encryption, that doesn’t mean that it is totally safe. Researchers and security experts have actually found a host of different security vulnerabilities in this encryption protocol as well.
Calls Moving to GSM from 3G
Have you ever noticed that when you receive or make a phone call, your network automatically switches from the 3G to GSM? This practice is very common among most mobile networks. As a result of this practice, your calls are transferred to the old GSM network which is less secure than the 3G.
But why do these mobile operators do that? It is usually done to reserve the 3G network bandwidth for the internet traffic. For phone calls and SMS, the networks prefer to use the GSM network.
If your mobile network doesn’t do that, it means that you are getting slightly better protection. However, you never get any type of protection when it comes to the mobile networks or the government – They can always listen to your conversations!
So here’s the verdict: Cell phone calls made using the regular network are secure up to a point from hackers and other 3rd parties. But when it comes to the government, mobile networks, or anyone with access to the network, they can easily eavesdrop on your communication!