As many as 600 million Samsung phones may be vulnerable to attacks that allow hackers to surreptitiously monitor the camera and microphone, read incoming and outgoing text messages, and install malicious apps, a security researcher said.
The vulnerability is in the update mechanism for a Samsung-customized version of SwiftKey, available on the Samsung Galaxy S6, S5, and several other Galaxy models. When downloading updates, the Samsung devices don’t encrypt the executable file, making it possible for attackers in a position to modify upstream traffic—such as those on the same Wi-Fi network—to replace the legitimate file with a malicious payload. The exploit was demonstrated Tuesday at the Blackhat security conference in London by Ryan Welton, a researcher with security firm NowSecure. A video of his exploit is here.
SamsungKeyboardExploit Phones that come pre-installed with the Samsung IME keyboard, as the Samsung markets its customized version of SwiftKey, periodically query an authorized server to see if updates are available for the keyboard app or any language packs that accompany it. Attackers in a man-in-the-middle position can impersonate the server and send a response that includes a malicious payload that’s injected into a language pack update. Because Samsung phones grant extraordinarily elevated privileges to the updates, the malicious payload is able to bypass protections built into Google’s Android operating system that normally limit the access third-party apps have over the device.
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