Researchers at Bluebox Security have published an unsettling discovery in the Android operating system that is the digital equivalent of a law enforcement official neglecting to verify if your driver’s license is actually real whenever you submit it as proof of your identity. Oh, and this little bug has been around since version 2.1 of the OS, which was released in January 2010. The real problem with this bug (aside from it being over 4 years old and still unpatched) is that it has the potential to grant malware written to take advantage of this bug an unprecedented level of access to your phone. While Google has acknowledged Bluebox’s finding, there is still no word on when this serious flaw will be fixed.
What this means for you:
Normally, Android apps installed on your phone are “sandboxed” into their own spaces, preventing them from interacting with other apps without permission. However, there are a certain set of apps that are allowed access to other apps, ostensibly to provide services to those apps. A well known example of a “super-privileged” app is Adobe’s Flash Player (before it was removed from the Play Store in Android 4.4) which was granted privileges to other apps primarily to provide rendering and playback services for Flash content. Each app comes with its own security certificate that is supposed to verify the apps identity and authenticity. Except because of the above-mentioned bug, your Android phone doesn’t bother to verify if the certificate itself was issued by a proper authority. Oops.
Until Google fixes this bug, be very careful installing new apps that appear on the Play store, especially if you are directed to one via suspicious email or social media. Even though Google supposedly checks every single app made available on the Play Store, hackers and security researchers have been able to sneak malware into the store for a short period of time. And definitely do not side-load apps. Hopefully I don’t need to explain just how bad having malware on your phone could be, especially one that could interact with things like your contact list, banking apps and social media accounts.