Those using smartphones on the job beware, some specifically designed to support the Android platform incorporated additional features that hackers can be use to bypass security features, making them more vulnerable to attack.
“Some of these pre-loaded applications, or features, are designed to make the smartphones more user-friendly, such as features that notify you of missed calls or text messages,” said Dr. Xuxian Jiang, an assistant professor of computer science at North Carolina State and co-author of a paper describing the research. “The problem is that these pre-loaded apps are built on top of the existing Android architecture in such a way as to create potential ‘backdoors’ that can be used to give third-parties direct access to personal information or other phone features.” Android has the largest share of the smartphone market in the U.S.
In essence, hacker can easily get into these pre-loaded apps. For example, these “backdoors” can record your phone calls, send text messages to premium numbers that will charge your account or even completely wipe out all of your settings.
The researchers have tested eight different smartphone models, including two “reference implementations” loaded only with Google’s baseline Android software. “Google’s reference implementations and the Motorola Droid were basically clean,” Jiang said. “No real problems there.”
However, five other models did not fare as well. HTC’s Legend, EVO 4G and Wildfire S, Motorola’s Droid X and Samsung’s Epic 4G all had significant vulnerabilities – with the EVO 4G displaying the most vulnerabilities.
The researchers notified manufacturers of the vulnerabilities earlier this year.
“If you have one of these phones, your best bet to protect yourself moving forward is to make sure you accept security updates from your vendor,” Jiang said. “And avoid installing any apps that you don’t trust completely.”
Researchers now plan to test these vulnerabilities in other smartphone models and determine whether third-party firmware has similar vulnerabilities.