My Thoughts on Technology and Jamaica: Check Point Software Technologies discover Certifi-gate – How to Control an Android Lollipop smartphone and Why fragmentation is at fault

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Check Point Software Technologies discover Certifi-gate – How to Control an Android Lollipop smartphone and Why fragmentation is at fault

“Left unmatched, and with no reasonable workaround, devices are exposed right out of the box. OEMs also cannot revoke the valid signed vulnerable components, making unmatched versions valid for installation on devices”

Statement by Check Point Software Technologies on the Certifi-gate vulnerability

Google Android just isn't having a great Summer of 2015.

Now another vulnerability has reared its ugly head in the form of Certifi-gate whose discovery was announced on Thursday August 6th 2015 by Researchers at Tel Aviv-based company Check Point Software Technologies as described in the article “Android flaw lets hackers spy on you with your own phone”, published August 6, 2015 by AMANDA SCHUPAK Amanda Schupak, CBS News

If you read my blog article on the StageFright Vulnerability entitled “Security Firm Zimperium reveals StageFright Bug - Why Automated Video Playback in @Google @Android is a Hacker's Thermonuclear War” you may have thought, what could possibly be worse than a security glitch that affect 82% of all smartphones?

Try the Certifi-gate vulnerability!

According to Israeli researchers Ohad Bobrov and Avi Bashan, the newly minted vulnerability affects the remaining 18% of Google Android 5.0 Lollipop smartphones by hijacking security certificates as reported in the article “Vulnerability Warning: There's Another Way To Hack Hundreds Of Millions Of Androids With One Text”, publishing AUG 6, 2015 by Thomas Fox-Brewster, Forbes.

So how does this security vulnerability work? Believe it or not, it's as simple as calling Customer Care for Remote Assistance!

Check Point Software Technologies discover Certifi-gate – How to Remotely Control an Android smartphone

Revealed at Black Hat Conference in Las Vegas on Thursday August 6th 2015, the Certifi-gate vulnerability affects all versions of Google Android.

But more worryingly, it affect Google Android 5.0 Lollipop, which was thought to be more secure and still hasn't achieved 18.1% of Android Devices as reported in the article “iOS 8 hits 85% adoption rate; Android Lollipop only at 18%”, published August 5, 2015 by Lance Whitney, CNET News and “Android Lollipop slowly nears 20 percent mark after eight months of release”, published Aug 5, 2015 By Tasneem Akolawala, BGR

The Certifi-gate vulnerability takes advantage of preloaded Apps called Remote Support Tool (mRST) Apps and system-level plugins that allow mobile carriers and manufacturers to remotely access your phone to troubleshoot problems as described in the article “Check Point: Certifi-Gate-based attacks could take complete control of Android devices”, published August 6, 2015 By Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, ZDNet

They are typically used by Customer Care Agents to remotely fix problems on your smartphone. Hint: they are also used by CSA (Call Center Agents) here in Jamaica to remotely diagnose smartphones, so it’s well known!

These Apps are the Smartphone version of remote Desktop Apps like Google Chrome Remote Desktop that allows you to remotely access your desktop via your Google Chrome Browser as described in my Geezam blog article entitled “Google Chrome Remote Desktop lets you control your Computer from Google Chrome for Android App”.

Hackers, knowing about how these mobile Remote Support Tool (mRST) apps work, can easily duplicate the supposedly secure authentication certificates. Thus hackers can use this vulnerability to gain access to your smartphone.

They can do this by simply designing an App that targets the weakness, giving them remote access to any and every Google Android Smartphone that downloaded a malicious third-party App similar to the ones described in my Geezam blog article entitled “Google Play Store Apps with AdWare threat to Android Security”. 

Lollipop vulnerable to Certif-gate – Why monthly updates cannot work against fragmentation

So, this means that all current Google Android 5.0 Lollipop are vulnerable in what is potentially a more serious security flaw that StageFright.

This as the security vulnerability takes advantage of the certificates that provide the privileged permissions as noted in the article “Certifi-Gate: Massive Android vulnerability affects hundreds of millions of smartphones and tablets”, published August 6, 2015 By David Gilbert, International Business Times

Android cannot revoke them, as they're built into Android and thus can be exploited by developers of third-party apps from Third-party App Stores and even apps sold from the Official Google Play Store.

Google, after the shock of StageFright, in collaboration with Samsung, LG, Sony and ZTE, has promised monthly bug fixes as soon as Google starts sending them out as stated in the article “Stagefright shocks Samsung, LG, and Google into taking phone security seriously” published August 7, 2015 By Andy Boxall, DigitalTrends.

Still, that's unlikely, thanks to the competitive nature of the smartphone world and the reluctance of Carriers and smartphone makers to work together to update every Android smartphone.

This is true especially if they're not selling, which may be due to competitive forces and hence the reluctance to work together as explained in the article “Why a billion Android phones will never be safe”, published August 7, 2015 by Jeffrey Van Camp, DigitalTrends and “Waiting for Android’s inevitable security Armageddon”, published Aug 6, 2015 by Ron Amadeo, ARS Technica.

According to OpenSignal, an App that gauges mobile signals, there are some 24,093 different Android devices made by 1,294 companies in 2015 as reported in the article “Android fragmentation: There are now 24,000 devices from 1,300 brands”, published August 6, 2015 By Liam Tung, ZDNet.  

So working together may be the only way to protect innocent Android users from becoming slaves to a remote Botnet, Guardians of the Galaxy Style!

As a way of providing assistance, Check Point Software Technologies has created Certifi-gate Scanner App that's available in the Google Play Store that allows users to assess their Smartphone to see if they’re vulnerable to the Certifi-gate.

Hopefully Google and pals get their act together before a super hacker launches a first strike, Tsar Bomba Style!

Here's the link:

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