On the Challenges of Automata Reconstruction in LTE Networks

Merlin Chlosta, David Rupprecht, Thorsten Holz

ACM Conference on Security and Privacy in Wireless and Mobile Networks (WiSec), Virtual, June 2021


Mobile networks are a crucial part of our digital lives and require adequate security measures. The 4G and 5G network standards are complex and challenging to implement, which led to several implementation issues being discovered over the last years. Consequently, we aim to strengthen automation in testing and increase test coverage to spot issues and potential security vulnerabilities.

In this paper, we explore active automata learning for 4G/LTE protocol state machines. We focus on LTE’s Mobility Management Entity (MME), the main core network element that handles all user registration and authentication through the NAS protocol. Based on automata learning, we automatically reconstruct the NAS protocol state machine to study implementation-specific artifacts and their security implications. We design and implement a reliable UE-toMME interface for testing the MME from the perspective of a user device. This method allows testing of fully functional core networks without modification. Based on a prototype implementation, we test two open-source projects, one commercial MME implementation, and one MME in an operator’s test network replicating the live LTE network. We expose several bugs, including crashes in three of the four implementations, potentially leading to network outages


tags: mobile, security