Wiretapping End-to-End Encrypted VoIP Calls: Real-World Attacks on ZRTP

Authors: Dominik Schürmann (TU Braunschweig), Fabian Kabus (TU Braunschweig), Gregor Hildermeier (TU Braunschweig), Lars Wolf (TU Braunschweig)

Volume: 2017
Issue: 3
Pages: 4–20
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/popets-2017-0025

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Abstract: Voice calls are still one of the most common use cases for smartphones. Often, sensitive personal information but also confidential business information is shared. End-to-end security is required to protect against wiretapping of voice calls. For such real-time communication, the ZRTP key-agreement protocol has been proposed. By verbally comparing a small number of on-screen characters or words, called Short Authentication Strings, the participants can be sure that no one is wiretapping the call. Since 2011, ZRTP is an IETF standard implemented in several VoIP clients. In this paper, we analyzed attacks on real-world VoIP systems, in particular those implementing the ZRTP standard. We evaluate the protocol compliance, error handling, and user interfaces of the most common ZRTP-capable VoIP clients. Our extensive analysis uncovered a critical vulnerability that allows wiretapping even though Short Authentication Strings are compared correctly. We discuss shortcomings in the clients’ error handling and design of security indicators potentially leading to insecure connections.

Keywords: ZRTP, VoIP, SIP, key exchange

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