Vulnerabilities of massive MIMO systems to pilot contamination attacks

Berk Akgun, Marwan Krunz, O. Ozan Koyluoglu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


We consider a single-cell massive multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) system in which a base station (BS) with a large number of antennas transmits simultaneously to several single-antenna users. The BS acquires the channel state information (CSI) for various receivers using uplink pilot transmissions. We demonstrate the vulnerability of the CSI estimation process to pilot-contamination (PC) attacks. In our attack model, the attacker aims at minimizing the sum rate of downlink transmissions by contaminating the uplink pilots. We first study these attacks for two downlink power allocation strategies under the assumption that the attacker knows the locations of the BS and its users. Later on, we relax this assumption and consider the case when such knowledge is probabilistic. The formulated problems are solved using stochastic optimization, Lagrangian minimization, and game-theoretic methods. A closed-form solution for a special case of the problem is obtained. Furthermore, we analyze the achievable individual secrecy rates under PC attacks and provide an upper bound on these rates. We also study this scenario without a priori knowledge of user locations at the attacker by introducing chance constraints. Our results indicate that such attacks can degrade the throughput of a massive MIMO system by more than 50%.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number8501977
Pages (from-to)1251-1263
Number of pages13
JournalIEEE Transactions on Information Forensics and Security
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2019


  • Massive MIMO
  • jamming attack
  • physical-layer security
  • pilot contamination
  • stochastic optimization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality
  • Computer Networks and Communications


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