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Vulnerability allows attackers to modify Android apps without breaking their signatures

Lucian Constantin | July 4, 2013
The vulnerability affects 99 percent of Android devices and has existed since Android 1.6, researchers from security firm Bluebox said.

However, if an attacker tricks a user to manually install a malicious update for an app originally installed through Google Play, the app will be replaced and the new version will no longer interact with the app store. That's the case for all applications or new versions of applications, malicious or non-malicious, that are not installed through Google Play, Forristal said.

Google was notified of the vulnerability in February and the company shared the information with their partners, including the members of the Open Handset Alliance, at the beginning of March, Forristal said. It is now up to those partners to decide what their update release plans will be, he said.

Forristal confirmed that one third party device, the Samsung Galaxy S4, already has the fix, which indicates that some device manufacturers have already started releasing patches. Google has not released patches for its Nexus devices yet, but the company is working on them, he said.

Google declined to comment on the matter and the Open Handset Alliance did not respond to a request for comment.

The availability of firmware updates for this issue will differ across device models, manufacturers and mobile carriers.

Whether a combination of device manufacturers and carriers, which play an important role in the distribution of updates, coincide to believe that there is justification for a firmware update is extremely variable and depends on their business needs, Forristal said. "Ideally it would be great if everyone, everywhere, would release an update for a security problem, but the practical reality is that it doesn't quite work that way, he said."

The slow distribution of patches in the Android ecosystem has long been criticized by both security researchers and Android users. Mobile security firm Duo Security estimated last September, based on statistics gathered through its X-Ray Android vulnerability assessment app, that more than half of Android devices are vulnerable to at least one of the known Android security flaws.

Judging by Android's patch distribution history so far, the vulnerability found by the Bluebox researchers will probably linger on many devices for a long time, especially since it likely affects a lot of models that have reached end-of-life and are no longer supported.


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