Google has finally rolled out an option on Android allowing users to disable 2G connections, which comes with a host of privacy and security issues exploited by cell site simulators.
The addition of the option was spotted by EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation), which calls the development A victory for the protection of privacy.
Caught by “stingrays”
A cell site simulator, also known as a “stingray” or IMSI catcher, is a device that poses as a cell tower, forcing cell phones within its range to connect to it.
This connection allows operators of these Stingrays to perform man-in-the-middle attacks and intercept sensitive personal information such as:
- Device IMSI (International Mobile Subscriber Identity)
- Call metadata such as number dialed and duration
- Content of text messages and voice calls
- Data Usage and Web Browsing History
Unfortunately, this method of data interception has been deployed repeatedly and indiscriminately by Law enforcement authorities during peaceful demonstrations in otherwise democratic countries where strict data protection laws apply.
Additionally, documented cases of private deployment of ‘stingrays’ have also been abundant in recent years, so abuse of communication network vulnerabilities is widespread.
Most of these vulnerabilities have been patched in 4G, but simulated base stations have a way of downgrading nearby device connections to 2G, essentially laying the groundwork for exploiting old flaws.
Having a way to prevent this on the user side is an important development, and while shutting down 2G connections doesn’t address all security concerns, it’s certainly a good start.
Disable 2G on Android
While Google has given Android users the option to not allow 2G cellular connections on their device, the setting is enabled by default.
If you want to disable it you can go to ‘Settings → Network & Internet → SIMs → Allow 2G‘. Depending on your device manufacturer and the Android skin used, the path to this setting may be different.
Note that this setting is only available on Android 12 at the moment. Bleeping Computer has tested Android 11 and Android 10, but the option is not yet available.
We asked Google to clarify if there are also any hardware requirements for this new option to work, and they told us that the modem must support HAL 1.6 radio, which is only available on older devices. recent.
Also, it’s important to note that 2G remains active as a backup for emergency calls no matter what position the toggle is set to, so there’s no way to turn it off completely.
Finally, Apple didn’t give iPhone users the choice to lock their devices to only 4G/5G connectivity, but now that Google has taken that step, the competition is likely to follow.