Towards the end of 2021, Google quietly pushed a new feature to its Android operating system, allowing users to optionally disable 2G at the modem level in their phones. It is worth noting that some phones from a few manufacturers, like Tecno already had the feature, but Google has now made the decision, to include it in vanilla Android.
Aside from forcing the phone to use a 3G, 4G or 5G connection, which are miles better and faster than the outdated 2G, it also enhances protection from cell-site simulators, an invasive surveillance technology normally employed by cybercriminals.
As hinted by the name, 2G is the second generation of mobile communications and was introduced at a time (1991) when standardization bodies did not account for certain eventualities such as rogue cell towers and the need for strong encryption. Therefore, as the years went by, more and more vulnerabilities have been discovered on the 2G network.
The first major problem is that the 2G network uses very weak encryption between the tower and the mobile device. This weak connection can be cracked in real-time by a determined hacker, who will then have access to your calls and text messages. As reported by EFF, this can be done passively without ever transmitting a single packet.
The second major concern with the 2G network is that there is no authentication of the tower to the phone. This essentially means that once a malicious person impersonates a real 2G tower, then a phone using the 2G protocol has no way to tell that it is interacting with a tower that is not genuine.
This is how cell-site simulators work. They will actively exploit the security flaws present in the 2G protocols in order to intercept the communications of people the hackers might be interested in. Despite the majority of these risks being fixed in the newer generations of network connectivity, advanced cell-site simulators will try to downgrade your communication to 2G so that they can have open access to your device. Google rolling out the option to permanently disable 2G will hopefully halt this exploitation.
How to permanently disable 2G connection on your device
If you have a newer Android phone, preferably bought in the last year or two, then follow the steps below. Some older phones might not be able to properly function without 2G connectivity due to hardware limitations.
Navigate to “Settings > Network and Internet > SIMs > Allow 2G” Once at the last step, untick the button to allow 2G connectivity.
Depending on the manufacturer, the wording and steps could slightly deviate, but it should be pretty straightforward to opt out of 2G connectivity.
Your device might also have several choices including 4G only, 4G and 3G or even 5G, 4G and 3G for the high-end phones with the latest 5G connectivity. If say you choose 4G only and go upcountry where connectivity is not the best, you can then simply downgrade to 3G in this scenario, and you will get better reception.