IBM finds another Android phone bug

Flaw means 55% of Android phones are vulnerable to being taken over, patch available

IBM security researchers have found a way to exploit an Android flaw that puts more than 55% of Android phones at risk of being taken over by persistent attackers.

By exploiting a weakness it discovered, IBM’s X-Force Application Security Research Team showed it could escalate privileges in a compromised phone and execute code on it, including taking over legitimate applications.

“In a nutshell, advanced hackers could exploit this arbitrary code execution vulnerability to give a malicious app, with no privileges, the ability to become a super app and help the hackers own the device,” according to an X-Force blog.

+ STAGEFRIGHT: Maybe the greatest Android vulnerability (so far) +

Other vulnerabilities such as StageFright have shined a bright light on Android security of late, and Google even launched a program to provide monthly updates for devices.

The new flaw discovered by IBM researchers exists in Android versions 4.3-5.1 (Jelly Bean, Kitkat and Lollipop) and a patch is available, but it is up to phone service providers to decide when and if to deploy it. The researchers presented a paper on the flaw today at USENIX WOOT ’15 in Washington, D.C., in which they describe an exploit, but don’t reveal the code to carry it out.

“What our team found has not been seen in the wild yet but shows that with the right focus and tools, malicious apps have the ability to bypass even the most security-conscious users,” writes IBM researcher Or Peles.

The flaw they found is in OpenSSLX509Certificate and can be exploited via the communication channel between applications and services. “As the information is broken down and put back together, malicious code is inserted into this stream, exploits the vulnerability at the other end and then owns the device,” he writes.

The researchers’ proof-of-concept attack uses shell commands to steal data from any applications on the victim device and on some devices the attackers could install malicious kernel modules. The attack replaces a real app with a fake one that steals the data. In a demo, the researchers replace the Facebook app.

The researchers also revealed vulnerabilities in third-party software developer kits for Android that allow arbitrary code execution in applications written using the kits. Such apps can leak data to attackers, they say.

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