As it turns out, you should be wary of the text messages that land up in the inbox in your Android phone. A major security vulnerability in the Android operating system has left a billion phones vulnerable to getting hacked, by a plain and simple text message. Check Point Research, the Threat Intelligence arm of Check Point Software Technologies Ltd. has revealed that there is “a security flaw in Samsung, Huawei, LG, Sony and other Android-based phones that leaves users vulnerable to advanced phishing attacks.”
The security firm says that the hack works by making use of the over the air (OTA) method that mobile network operators use to update new phones joining their network, also known as an OMA CP message. Researchers say that this method involves limited authentication methods. Therefore, hackers or someone working remotely can exploit this route to pose as a network operator that you have just connected to and send a deceptive OMA CP message to Android phones. The message can then trick users into accepting malicious settings that would start to route the phone’s incoming and outgoing Internet traffic through a proxy server owned by the hacker. The Android phone user would not realize what is happening, and the data in the phone can be accessed by the hacker.
“Researchers determined that certain Samsung phones are the most vulnerable to this form of phishing attack because they do not have an authenticity check for senders of OMA CP messages. The user only needs to accept the CP and the malicious software will be installed without the sender needing to prove their identity,” says Check Point Research.
The research also says that phones made by Huawei, LG, and Sony do have a form of authentication, but hackers only need the International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) of the recipient’s phone to ‘confirm’ their identity. And it is not difficult for attackers to get their hands on a phone’s IMSI details—this can be done by creating a rogue Android app that reads a phone’s IMSI once it is installed or the attacker can simply bypass the need for an IMSI by sending the user a text message posing as the network operator and asking them to accept a pin-protected OMA CP message. If the user then enters the provided PIN number and accepts the OMA CP message, the CP can be installed without an IMSI.
“Given the popularity of Android devices, this is a critical vulnerability that must be addressed,” said Slava Makkaveev, Security Researcher at Check Point Software Technologies. Researchers say Samsung included a fix addressing this phishing flow in their Security Maintenance Release for May (SVE-2019-14073), LG released their fix in July (LVE-SMP-190006), and Huawei is planning to include UI fixes for OMA CP in the next generation of Mate series or P series smartphones. Sony refused to acknowledge the vulnerability, stating that their devices follow the OMA CP specification.