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02 has confirmed that hackers exploited long-known weaknesses in a protocol that connects back-end telco networks to intercept and re-route two-factor verification codes sent by German banks to customer mobiles to authorise online funds transfers.

Weaknesses in the Signaling System 7 (SS7) protocol - which is used for data communications between different telco networks - have been known about since 2014.

Researchers demonstrated that anyone with internal access to a telco can easily log in to third party networks, enabling them to track phones and redirect messages.

O2 in Germany has now confirmed that some customers in Germany have had their accounts drained by hackers after initially falling victim to phishing scams which harvested user names, passwords, phone numbers and bank account details.

The attackers then used SS7 to intercept and redirect mTANs - mobile transaction authentication numbers sent by banks in Germany to authorise transfers out of accounts - to their own phones.

"Criminals carried out an attack from a network of a foreign mobile network operator in the middle of January," 02 told German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. "The attack redirected incoming SMS messages for selected German customers to the attackers."

The news is likely to send a chill down other banks and organisations currently using SMS codes as a customer verification mechanism.

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