Spam SMS could cripple networks, report

Oct 05 2005 - 02:31 AM ET | In The News

Researchers at Pennsylvania State University announced a study today that suggests cellphone networks could be brought to their knees if malicious users sent bogus SMS messages to overcrowd the system. On the internet this kind of tack is called Denial of Service and is quite popular (several years ago big sites such as Yahoo were brought down by DOS attacks). The New York Times writes about the problem:

By pushing 165 messages a second into the network, said Patrick D. McDaniel, a professor of computer science and engineering at Pennsylvania State University and the lead researcher on the paper, "you can congest all of Manhattan."

That statement is slightly misleading as all carriers use technology to detect bogus messages, so any attack would have to be sophisticated enough to outsmart the filters.

The article goes on to say that the danger of flooding a network with SMS messages is that they are sent on the channels used to set-up voice calls. Theoretically this would mean a DOS attack of text messages could bring down both voice and data connections.

Nextel had some major SMS problems earlier this year, but the problems were limited to text. Reports cited problems with the set of spam filters employed to protect the network.