Tag Archives: Qualcomm

THIS is Why Patching Your Phone Is Important

I tend to be a bit of a dog on a bone when it comes to patching your phone.  Apple helps its phone owners and usually shoves patches down your throat, whether you want them or not – as long as the phone is still supported.

But when it comes to Android phones, it is an entirely different game unless you own a Google branded Pixel, Pixel 2 or Pixel 3 phone.  For those phones, Google releases and installs patches like Apple does.

For every other Android phone, Google publishes the open source code to a public repository every month.  Then the phone’s manufacturer had to download it and integrate any changes that it made.  Up until recently, this was a completely optional decision on the part of the phone manufacturer.  Once this is done and tested, the manufacturer, say LG Electronics, has to make the code available to each of the mobile carriers around the world.  The mobile carrier then needs to integrate its changes into the code and test it.  Again, completely voluntary.  There will be a new option for brand new phones released with Android 10 this fall, but nothing now.

One more thing.  Most manufacturers only patch a phone for a year or two AFTER THE INITIAL RELEASE – not after the date that you bought it.  So, if a phone was released in January 2017 and you bought it in March 2018, it likely will only be patched for the first 9 months that you own it, at best.  This means that for most of the time that you are using the phone, it will be vulnerable to be hacked.  If you keep the phone for say 3 years – many people keep Android phones longer – than for about 2 and a half of those years, it will be open to attack.

This is why understanding this and being vigilant about patching is so important.  And why many Android phones are already compromised.

So why today?

Security firm Tencent announced two critical bugs in the Qualcomm chipsets and one in the driver that would allow a hacker to take over an affected phone WITH NO USER ACTION REQUIRED.

Check out the link below for the details and CVE numbers.

Once compromised, the attack gives hackers full system access, including the ability to install rootkits (which are not detectable) and steal any information on the phone, most likely without being detected.

Some of the Qualcomm chipsets affected are:

“IPQ8074, MDM9206, MDM9607, MDM9640, MDM9650, MSM8996AU, QCA6174A, QCA6574, QCA6574AU, QCA6584, QCA8081, QCA9379, QCS404, QCS405, QCS605, Qualcomm 215, SD 210/SD 212/SD 205, SD 425, SD 427, SD 430, SD 435, SD 439 / SD 429, SD 450, SD 625, SD 632, SD 636, SD 665, SD 675, SD 712 / SD 710 / SD 670, SD 730, SD 820, SD 820A, SD 835, SD 845 / SD 850, SD 855, SD 8CX, SDA660, SDM439, SDM630, SDM660, SDX20, SDX24, SXR1130”

Point is – a lot of them, affecting a lot of phones – most of which will never be patched.

While the researchers have not released all of the details on how to do the hack, all that is required is that you have WiFi enabled and be within WiFi range of the attacker such as being out in public in a store, coffee shop, airport, hotel or meeting area, just to name a couple of options.

If you use an Android phone, check to see if it is receiving patches.  if you store anything sensitive on the phone, disable WiFi if you can. 

IF YOUR PHONE IS NO LONGER RECEIVING PATCHES, THERE IS NOTHING THAT YOU CAN DO OTHER THAN NOT USING WIFI OR BUYING A NEW PHONE.

It will not be long before attackers figure out the details and start using this in the wild.

Source:  The Hacker News.

 

 

 

 

 

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New Vulnerability May Affect Cell Phones, Cell Towers, Routers and Switches

A bug in a software library used in a wide variety of communications products such as cell towers, routers and switches and even the radio chips inside of cell phones was recently announced.

The library in questions implements  standard known as ASN.1 and was developed by Objective Systems.

While we are all used to, for example, patching our iPhones or Android phones, what we are talking about here is patching the chip inside the phone that controls the radio that talks to the cell tower.  THAT is something that we are not used to patching.

If someone were to figure out how to exploit this flaw – and the experts say that this is not easy – then they are in control of the guts of the phone – possibly even bypassing encryption.  This is why this is such a big deal.  The same applies to any of the other affected communications equipment.

Right now we know that Qualcomm chips can be exploited, but researchers are furiously at work testing AT&T, Ericsson, Cisco and other implementations to see if they are also vulnerable.

While Objective Systems has released a patch, it is not likely that all of the equipment that uses the affected code will ever be patched.  Some of the equipment is on telephone poles in the middle of nowhere and other equipment is in old phones that are no longer ‘supported’ by the cell carrier.  It is even possible that for some of the equipment, the manufacturer did not provide a mechanism to field upgrade the firmware in these chips.

What is even worse is that it is unlikely that the owner of the equipment, whether that is you or me when it comes to a cell phone, Verizon when it comes to a cell tower or your IT department when it comes to an Internet router would ever know that the equipment has been compromised because we don’t have any monitoring software that operates at that level.

That is a bit disconcerting.  But not surprising, unfortunately.

Information for this post came from Ars Technica.

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5 Year Old Qualcomm Bug Leaves Many Phones Vulnerable

A 5 year old bug in a Qualcomm chipset used in many Android phones allows a hacker to elevate their privileges and read SMS and call history data, change system settings or disable the lock screen.

Hackers could exploit this bug by having physical access to an unlocked phone or by getting a user to install a malicious app.

The bug affects older versions of the Android OS, like version 4.3 and earlier, the most.  Since that software is likely not supported by anyone, those phones likely will never be patched.

The Android OS added something call Security Enhancements for Android in version 4.4 which reduces significantly but does not eliminate the problem.  This is the main reason why Apple tries really hard to force people to upgrade OS versions, even if it means that they have to trash their old phones.

Congress is now investigating the issue of OS support in old phones (yes – we’re from the government and we’re here to help you), however, that is unlikely to change anything any time soon.

Google released a patch for this bug on May 1, but given the carrier’s track record at releasing patches, it is likely going to be months before most users see that patch – if ever.  Google says that Nexus phones are not vulnerable to this – I assume this means that they do not use the Qualcomm chip that is at the heart of this problem,

For any given user, it would be difficult to figure out whether their particular phone is susceptible, but users running Lollipop (V5) and Marshmallow (V6) are likely least affected.

One more time, Apple beats Google because they control the supply chain end to end.  In a closed world, where one company makes the phones and the OS, they can force patches quickly.  In the Android world, Google can release patches and patch their Nexus phones, but have very little control over the  handset makers like LG and Samsung or the Carriers like AT&T or Sprint.

Congress could potentially have some impact here, but I am not counting on them doing anything smart.  They do not seem to have a good track record.

 

Information for this post came from Ars Technica.

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