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Keeping a Cellphone System Going In a War

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the uplink-to-the-world dept.

Communications 34

dogsbreath writes "An Al Jazeera article provides fascinating insight about how engineers for one of the Libyan cell providers in the rebel held East have kept the system going in the middle of a civil insurrection. Administering a now-free cellular system in a war zone brings new meaning to the term BOFH as the engineers deal with bandwidth hogs and prioritize international traffic. A technical decision to keep a copy of the user database (the HLR) in Benghazi was crucial to keeping people's phones on line. There are reasons besides earthquakes and Tsunamis to keep your data backed up in geographically diverse locations. The report expands on and corrects the WSJ article covered on Slashdot before."

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34 comments

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Sweet Deal! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36127050)

All we need is a civil war to get us all free cell phone service.

Re:Sweet Deal! (1)

SilverHatHacker (1381259) | more than 3 years ago | (#36127142)

Come to think of it, that might help with patent reform too.

Re:Sweet Deal! (2)

dogsbreath (730413) | more than 3 years ago | (#36127446)

True: free minutes but the service level is severely compromised. Plus the high calibre AA guns poking holes in the people around you can be a bit offputting. 8-P

Re:Sweet Deal! (3, Interesting)

INT_QRK (1043164) | more than 3 years ago | (#36127538)

Were I in a cryptologic division of some security service, I would certainly wish to consider ensuring that the cellular infrastructure be maintained during an insurgency; especially where insurgents might be naive enough to not realize that I could thus not only sniff their voice and data traffic, but also triangulate locations, and through traffic analysis, discern their strength, force array and command structure.

Really? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36127114)

There are reasons besides earthquakes and Tsunamis to keep your data backed up in geographically diverse locations.

Letting an insurgency take control and use your communications infrastructure against you sounds more like a reason not to back up your data in geographically diverse locations. Regardless of whether you support the rebels or not, this sounds more like a reason to secure and protect backups so that they can't be used without authorization unless you're in favor of helping out groups that are focused on destroying your government and and possibly killing you.

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36127218)

Or, just don't make the password "passwrod".

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36127246)

Once they have uncontrolled physical access to your servers, it doesn't matter what your passwords are.

Re:Really? (1)

gman003 (1693318) | more than 3 years ago | (#36127368)

Not necessarily. Set up your server to run "cat /dev/prandom > /dev/sd0c" after three failed logins. Odds are, whoever first tries to hack in is going to try the easy stuff first - no password, password of "password", password of "123456". By the time someone who knows their stuff gets to it, the data is gone.

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36127406)

Assuming your attacker is dumb enough to use your machine to break into your hard drive...

Re:Really? (2)

confused one (671304) | more than 3 years ago | (#36127518)

You would try to log in? Really? I'd either boot to my own OS disk with the machine disconnected from the network or pull the drives and reconstruct the data offline.

Re:Really? (0)

Moryath (553296) | more than 3 years ago | (#36127656)

You would.

Of course, the people trying to break in would most likely be armed-forces types.

Which means something along these lines [xkcd.com] is how they will get access.

Re:Really? (2)

gman003 (1693318) | more than 3 years ago | (#36127774)

Yeah, I probably would try to log in. Booting from my own OS disk would be my second trick, followed by pulling the hard drive and putting it into one of my own machines as a secondary (gets around any BIOS-based protection).

And I'm moderately educated about the subject. The average rebel is probably about that well-educated - possibly less.

Re:Really? (1)

Billly Gates (198444) | more than 3 years ago | (#36131012)

Maybe not applicable to most governments but the rebels are not the bad guys in Libya.

They are pro democracy and freedom and wont kill you unless your name is Gadhaffi. The only people who support him are government workers who are being paid and those who do not want to be killed by their own government.

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36159742)

Humans are always a weak link in security chains, in a situation like the one in Libya, it is quite possible there is someone sympathetic to the rebels in a position to get access to your secure data.

Engineers making a difference (1)

Hultis (1969080) | more than 3 years ago | (#36127122)

All engineers take note of what they did and how they did it, it's up to us to do the same thing if something like that happens in our country.

Re:Engineers making a difference (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36127258)

All engineers take note of what they did and how they did it, it's up to us to do the same thing when something like that happens in our country.

FTFY

Re:Engineers making a difference (0)

gman003 (1693318) | more than 3 years ago | (#36127268)

All engineers take note of what they did and how they did it, it's up to us to do the same thing when something like that happens in our country.

Fixed.

Re:Engineers making a difference (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36129796)

Just like a modern conservative to try to 'fix' things that they know nothing about. They only thing missing is blaming Obama.

Re:Engineers making a difference (1)

gman003 (1693318) | more than 3 years ago | (#36148418)

How the fuck did that make me a conservative? Both major US parties suck - I blame Bush as much as Obama. Hell, it's preposterous even treating them like they're different entities.

Re:Engineers making a difference (5, Interesting)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 3 years ago | (#36127346)

All engineers take note of what they did and how they did it, it's up to us to do the same thing if something like that happens in our country.

This is interesting (and it's better reporting than we get from most sources, thank you, Al Jezeera). Basically, modern network infrastructure is controlled by a relatively small number of technical staff. Even if a government manages to cut the major fiber optic backbones, there is enough expertise and equipment in the world to 'work around' that problem.

Ghaddaffi (or how ever you spell it) made the mistake of allowing a small mobile provider to keep control of it's subscriber database. They used that info, along with a cobbled together satellite and land line network to patch things up well enough to essentially be a command and control system for the opposition.

Could the US Government be more effective in a general meelee in the US itself? Perhaps. The US military has a higher degree of technical competence than Libya's but if there really was a new 'civil war' level of discontent, there would be defections left and right.

The Internet is designed to route around damage. This is taking it to another level. May you live in interesting times, indeed.

Re:Engineers making a difference (1)

confused one (671304) | more than 3 years ago | (#36127536)

The US also has missles designed to lock onto transceivers and destroy them. Your satellite uplink might not last long.

Re:Engineers making a difference (2)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 3 years ago | (#36127582)

The US also has missiles designed to lock onto transceivers and destroy them. Your satellite uplink might not last long.

These work best in a relatively 'quiet' RF environment. In the US, there would be lots of uplinks and it would be relatively difficult to get the 'right' one. But you're correct, the US does have significant anti-pretty-damned-much-everything capability. The big question would be, if the shit hits the fan and you have a general civil-war type conflict, how much can you expect the military to do? Further, while we do have anti RF devices, we don't have that many of them.

Just a little Armchair Armageddon thinking on a Saturday morning.

Re:Engineers making a difference (2)

bar-agent (698856) | more than 3 years ago | (#36128782)

The big question would be, if the shit hits the fan and you have a general civil-war type conflict, how much can you expect the military to do?

I used to think that in the event of a widespread insurgency or revolution, a country's military would stand down rather than gun down thousands. But after what happened in Libya, I am no longer confident that this is the case. It's like the Milgram experiment on a bigger and deadlier scale.

Re:Engineers making a difference (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36129622)

T doesn't sound much different than say the beginning events of egypt/syria

Re:Engineers making a difference (1)

Billly Gates (198444) | more than 3 years ago | (#36131002)

Gadhaffi burned many senior officers alive in his compound and showed them to the rest of his military to show what happens if loyalty is not obeyed. Many in the military did support the opposition. Most after this decided to support Gadhaffi and not risk being killed.

Re:Engineers making a difference (1)

confused one (671304) | more than 3 years ago | (#36134404)

It had occured to me that you could simply set up the uplinks en-mass -- let them use up all the missiles. But then it occured to me that between the capability to jam signals over large geographic area, and the anti-satellite capabilities, if the US Government really wants to shut down communications, they will. It's have to be an extreme situation.

Re:Engineers making a difference (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36132504)

Ghaddaffi (or how ever you spell it)

He should be called Daffy. His opponent is East Libya Military Resistance, ( ELMR )

The problem with LTE (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36127192)

You can't use HLRs on GSM networks like LTE, so that'll be an issue

Re:The problem with LTE (2)

dnaumov (453672) | more than 3 years ago | (#36127228)

How many wrongs can you get in 1 sentence?

LTE is not GSM, it is 3GPP Long Term Evolution, so "GSM networks like LTE" is an oxymoron.
We sure as hell use HLRs on the GSM network we run.

Re:The problem with LTE (1)

badkarmadayaccount (1346167) | more than 3 years ago | (#36140078)

AFAIK, LTE is supposed to be some sort of convergent standard, which may have confused the GPP. BTW, are you Bulgarian by chance?

Bad title (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36127352)

The title of keeping the system running is completely inaccurate. They didn't keep it up. They preformed a network coup d'etat. It was really pretty cool. There are a couple write-ups around the internet on tech cellar type blog but I don't have any links handy.
They basically brought a few key pieces of equipment in from outside the country, stole a few key peaces of info like subscriber database from the, at the time, shutdown system and then brought most of the towers back up linked into a new OAM system. Really, check it out, largest scale network coup d'etat I have ever read about.

Re:Bad title (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36127416)

Hey AC, your comment would be even better if you included some links or mentioned which sites you are referring to. A lot of us would like to know more and it would be extremely positive if you would short circuit the search cycle.

Re:Bad title (1)

gl4ss (559668) | more than 3 years ago | (#36132066)

gaddafi & guys('ol muba etc) didn't think what they were doing when they ordered cellphone networks and paid good money for it. it's a real big test on a country to bring that in big time.

LET'S GO TO WAR !! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36127386)

You may fucking pronounce us guilty a thousand times over, but the Goddess of the
Eternal Court of History will smile and tear to tatters the brief of the
state prosecutor and the sentence of this court, for She acquits us
Condemn me
Condemn me
Condemn me
History will absolve
Singing "this will be the day that I die" (Go Don !!)

Go to war
Go to war
Go to war
who-ah

It's enough to make you wonder sometimes if you're on the right planet.

Let's go

When two tribes go to war
A point is all you can score
When two tribes go to war
A point is all you can score

Cowboy No. 1
A born-again poor man's son
On the air America
I modelled shirts by Van Heusen-yeah

You know

Working on the black gas

Switch off your shield
Switch off and feel
I'm working on loving-yeah
Giving you back the good times
Ship it out-out
I'm working for the black gas

We got two tribes
We got the bomb
We got the bomb-yeah
Sock it to me biscuits-now

Are we living in a land
Where sex and horror are the new Gods?
Yeah

When two tribes go to war
A point is all you can score
Yeah, motherfuckas

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