As intended, the base station will tunnel this packet inside its GTP-U tunnel and send to the UPF. This results in a GTP-U in the GTP-U packet arriving at the UPF. There are now two GTP-U packets in the UPF: The outer GTP-U packet header is created by the base station to encapsulate the data packet from the user device. This outer GTP-U packet has 0xFF as its message type and a length of 44. This header is normal. The inner GTP-U header is crafted and sent by the user device as a data packet. Like the outer one, this inner GTP-U has 0xFF as message type, but a length of 0 is not normal.
The source IP address of the inner packet belongs to the user device, while the source IP address of the outer packet belongs to the base station. Both inner and outer packets have the same destination IP address: that of the UPF.
The UPF decapsulates the outer GTP-U and passes the functional checks. The inner GTP-U packet’s destination is again the same UPF. What happens next is implementation-specific:
- Some implementations maintain a state machine for packet traversal. Improper implementation of the state machine might result in processing this inner GTP-U packet. This packet might have passed the checks phase already since it shares the same packet-context with the outer packet. This leads to having an anomalous packet inside the system, past sanity checks.
- Since the inner packet’s destination is the IP address of UPF itself, the packet might get sent to the UPF. In this case, the packet is likely to hit the functional checks and therefore becomes less problematic than the previous case.
Some 5G core vendors leverage Open5GS code. For example, NextEPC (4G system, rebranded as Open5GS in 2019 to add 5G, with remaining products from the old brand) has an enterprise offer for LTE/5G, which draws from Open5GS’ code. No attacks or indications of threats in the wild have been observed, but our tests indicate potential risks using the identified scenarios.
The importance of the attack is in the attack vector: the cellular infrastructure attacks from the UE. The exploit only requires a mobile phone (or a computer connected via a cellular dongle) and a few lines of Python code to abuse the opening and mount this class of attack. The GTP-U in GTP-U attacks is a well-known technique, and backhaul IP security and encryption do not prevent this attack. In fact, these security measures might hinder the firewall from inspecting the content.
Remediation and insights
Critical industries such as the medical and utility sectors are just some of the early adopters of private 5G systems, and its breadth and depth of popular use are only expected to grow further. Reliability for continuous, uninterrupted operations is critical for these industries as there are lives and real-world implications at stake. The foundational function of these sectors are the reason that they choose to use a private 5G system over Wi-Fi. It is imperative that private 5G systems offer unfailing connectivity as a successful attack on any 5G infrastructure could bring the entire network down.
In this entry, the abuse of CVE-2021-45462 can result in a DoS attack. The root cause of CVE-2021-45462 (and most GTP-U-in-GTP-U attacks) is the improper error checking and error handling in the packet core. While GTP-U-in-GTP-U itself is harmless, the proper fix for the gap has to come from the packet-core vendor, and infrastructure admins must use the latest versions of the software.
A GTP-U-in-GTP-U attack can also be used to leak sensitive information such as the IP addresses of infrastructure nodes. GTP-U peers should therefore be prepared to handle GTP-U-in-GTP-U packets. In CT environments, they should use an intrusion prevention system (IPS) or firewalls that can understand CT protocols. Since GTP-U is not normal user traffic, especially in private 5G, security teams can prioritize and drop GTP-U-in-GTP-U traffic.
As a general rule, the registration and use of SIM cards must be strictly regulated and managed. An attacker with a stolen SIM card could insert it to an attacker’s device to connect to a network for malicious deployments. Moreover, the responsibility of security might be ambiguous to some in a shared operating model, such as end-devices and the edge of the infrastructure chain owned by the enterprise. Meanwhile, the cellular infrastructure is owned by the integrator or carrier. This presents a hard task for security operation centers (SOCs) to bring relevant information together from different domains and solutions.
In addition, due to the downtime and tests required, updating critical infrastructure software regularly to keep up with vendor’s patches is not easy, nor will it ever be. Virtual patching with IPS or layered firewalls is thus strongly recommended. Fortunately, GTP-in-GTP is rarely used in real-world applications, so it might be safe to completely block all GTP-in-GTP traffic. We recommend using layered security solutions that combine IT and communications technology (CT) security and visibility. Implementing zero-trust solutions, such as Trend Micro™ Mobile Network Security, powered by CTOne, adds another security layer for enterprises and critical industries to prevent the unauthorized use of their respective private networks for a continuous and undisrupted industrial ecosystem, and by ensuring that the SIM is used only from an authorized device. Mobile Network Security also brings CT and IT security into a unified visibility and management console.
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