By Dan Heilman / Top Tech News. Updated August 08, 2016.
Recently uncovered security flaws could mean trouble for owners of devices that run the Android operating system. Researchers at security firm Check Point recently discovered the vulnerabilities, together labeled Quadrooter, which may affect as many as 900 million Android devices.
Speaking about the discoveries last week at the Def Con security conference in Las Vegas, Adam Donenfeld, Check Point's lead mobile security researcher, revealed four new privilege escalation exploits that can be used to remotely gain root access to Android handsets.
To gain access, an attacker just has to get the user to install a malicious app. From there the attacker has full access to saved data and can also change or remove system-level files, delete or add apps and gain access to the device's screen, camera, or microphone, said Donenfeld.
As Donenfeld explained it, Google made several changes in the Android landscape to tighten security, but vulnerabilities have slipped through anyway. He also noted that Google is not the only company struggling to keep Android safe. Qualcomm, which makes 80 percent of the chipsets in the Android ecosystem, has almost as much of an effect on Android’s security as Google.
"If exploited, Quadrooter vulnerabilities can give attackers complete control of devices and unrestricted access to sensitive personal and enterprise data on them," Check Point said in a blog post. "Access could also provide an attacker with capabilities such as keylogging, GPS tracking, and recording video and audio."
Check Point examined Qualcomm’s code in Android devices, finding what it called multiple privilege escalation vulnerabilities in multiple subsystems introduced by Qualcomm to all its Android devices in multiple different subsystems.
In its Def Con presentation, the company reviewed the privilege escalation vulnerabilities it found and demonstrated a detailed exploitation that bypassed the existing mitigations in Android’s Linux kernel to run kernel-code, elevating privileges and thus gaining root privileges.
The smartphones at risk of being exploited by the Quadrooter vulnerabilities are: BlackBerry Priv; Blackphone, Blackphone 2; Google Nexus 5X, Nexus 6, Nexus 6P; HTC One, HTC M9, HTC 10; LG G4, LG G5, LG V10; New Moto X by Motorola; OnePlus One, OnePlus 2, OnePlus 3; Samsung Galaxy S7, Galaxy S7 Edge; and Sony Xperia Z Ultra.
Because the vulnerable drivers are pre-installed, they can only be fixed via patches from distributors or carriers. The patches can only be pushed to users by those distributors or carriers once they get new driver packs from Qualcomm.
Check Point is making available a free Quadrooter scanner app that scans users’ Android phones to see if the necessary patches have been downloaded and installed. The scanner app is available at https://www.checkpoint.com/resources/quadrooter-vulnerability-consumer/.
Qualcomm said it has already fixed all four flaws, while Google said it has patched three of them in an update supplied earlier this month. Final debugging will come with Google’s next security update, according to the Android Headlines Web site.