back to article Mobe encryption guru Charles Brookson picks up OBE from the Queen

Charles Brookson – the man behind the encryption algorithms in GSM mobile networks – has collected his OBE from the Queen. Brookson led the team that produced the A5/1, A5/3 and A5/2 algorithms used by countless mobes worldwide to encrypt calls from eavesdroppers. He recently stepped down from his role as chairman of the GSM …

  1. xerocred

    Congratulations

    Well deserved.

    1. nematoad Silver badge

      Re: Congratulations

      Yes, well done and thank you.

      I do find it a bit strange that Mr Brookson is rightfully honoured for his contributions to ensuring that our privacy is protected by one arm of the government whilst another is bleating about how encryption is going to mean the end of the world and that the sky will fall in.

      Again, thank you for doing something for the rest of us.

      1. streaky

        Re: Congratulations

        rightfully honoured for his contributions to ensuring that our privacy is protected by one arm of the government whilst another is bleating about how encryption is going to mean the end of the world and that the sky will fall in

        Isn't it the same crypto that was generally considered staggeringly weak long before anybody had even heard of Snowden (was assumed completely broken in circa 1998)?

        Uses a PSK stored by the (apparently idiot) SIM card maker, which means if you get into their gear you can just take all their keys. But I'm sure that would never happen.

        I can make the leap between that tech and getting an OBE to be honest, surprised the CIA didn't award him the Intelligence Medal of Merit.

        In all fairness I'm not sure if we blame the networks of him for all this but I think most people found GSM fairly sketchy on day 1.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Congratulations

      Yes, Charles has been a great force in the world of Telecom Standards. Well done! We still enjoy toying with your excellent algos, (my boss said it was the Fr/De spooks that introduced the padding with zeroes in GSM, but who knows!)

      My one mild gripe is why was it 'just' an OBE?, Sir Charles G4GBA sounds better and I think would befit the real contribution that Charles has made.

      parenthetically, is it really 45 years ago that this was written about Charles in the RSARS 'Mercury'?

      CHARLES BROOKSON, C/o .. Grove Road, Havant, Hants. Charles is another Cadet member, this time from Bradfield College, Berkshire, where he is with the Army Signals Section. Charles joined the Cadets in August 1968, has his Signals Classification and is No.2 operator of CCF Call-sign 6. Welcome to the Society, Charles. Tnx to 716 for the introduction.

      Royal Signals, eh? who'd've thunk

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Secure from the security services?

    Hardly. A5/1 may well have been a good crypto algorithm for its time, but our fine upstanding security services made sure it was weak enough for them to break, by nobbling the keys. A5/1 keys aren't 128 bit as originally proposed, nor 64 bit as later planned, but 64 bit with 10 bits set to zero - i.e. an effective length of just 54 bits.

    1. Antonymous Coward
      Holmes

      Re: Secure from the security services?

      Eh? That's as glowing and sincere a testament to just how good his work is as anyone could hope for.

      Now where's our friend Ross's gong?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Secure from the security services?

        That's kind of the point I was trying to make. His algorithm was good, but the implementation in the GSM standard was crippled from Day 1 by deliberately weakened keys. I wasn't dissing him.

        1. Simon Rockman

          Re: Secure from the security services?

          Security services don't need to crack the encryption, all mobile networks have a lawful interception clause written into their licences. The security services can just wave a piece of paper to listen.

          Of course they can't do this in countries where they don't have control, but then some countries are not allowed full strength encryption.

          1. Uberseehandel

            Re: Secure from the security services?

            The general public might think that the security organs do not need to crack mobile phone encryption as they can listen straight off the switch.

            Quite true. However, the network has to be provisioned so that what is required, snoop-wise is put into effect, and this leaves a growing trail that that becomes obvious to a surprisingly large number of people, even the ones who can barely tie their own shoe laces.

            Understandably, some security agencies prefer just to listen and decrypt in real time, with or without trojan horse cells and "access" to the various networks own cells. This not only saves an unbelievable amount of admin, but also is much more secure. Some of the people who work in network security are weird enough to be automatic security risks.

          2. streaky

            Re: Secure from the security services?

            all mobile networks have a lawful interception clause written into their licences

            Yeah but then you have to go to court and explain why you need to tap somebody's comms and expect a competent person to not think you're full of it.

            Gemalto is my answer to this statement.

  3. Richard Boyce
    Unhappy

    When strong crypto is considered bad by the government...

    ...it makes an honour from the government for cryptography quite suspect. Which is quite sad.

  4. Camilla Smythe

    <irony>

    </irony>

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Queen != Government

    She's representing the kingdom, not governing the country. She's well advised to keep her nose out of (nor be influenced by) political debates. By honouring this fine bloke for his achievements, she has proven to do just that.

    Now, where's the like button for the Queen? For this OBE she clearly deserves an upvote! :)

    1. streaky

      Re: Queen != Government

      She's well advised to keep her nose out of (nor be influenced by) political debates

      Problem.

      David Cameron's insane government makes the list of people to give honours to. Queen just hands them out.

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