Symantec spots two Android apps using 'master key' vulnerability

The applications help Chinese users schedule medical appointments

Hackers are now using a critical vulnerability in Android to modify legitimate smartphone applications, putting users at risk of being spied on.

Security vendor Symantec wrote on Tuesday that it found two applications being distributed in Chinese Android marketplaces that have employed the "master key" vulnerabilities discovered earlier this month.

Both applications, used to find and schedule medical appointments, are legitimate but have been modified by hackers, Symantec wrote on its blog.

Inserted into the programs is code that lets an attacker remotely control an Android device and collect data such as phone numbers and the device's IMEI number. It can also deactivate some Chinese mobile security software programs.

Additionally, the code can command a device to send SMSes to a premium number, a scam where an attacker controls the number and collects the fees charged to the victim.

One of the master key vulnerabilities was uncovered by a mobile security vendor, Bluebox Security. The company found that an Android package file, used to install an application, could be modified in a way that did not affect the application's original cryptographic digital signature. The signature verifies an application's integrity. A second, similar vulnerability was published on a Chinese forum.

Google quickly issued patches for the problems, which may affect as many as 900 million devices made over the last four years running Android versions 1.6 and higher.

Mobile phone operators must either send a patch out to users, which can be a slow process, or users must apply a patch themselves, which is unlikely for less-sophisticated smartphone users. Some security vendors have issued their own software to fix the vulnerability.

Google is scanning applications in its Play store to weed out programs that might be infected. Symantec also gave the usual security advice for users to only download applications from reputable Android marketplaces.

"We expect attackers to continue to leverage this vulnerability to infect unsuspecting user devices," the company wrote.

Send news tips and comments to Follow me on Twitter: @jeremy_kirk

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags symantecsecurityMobile OSesmobileExploits / vulnerabilities

More about GoogleSymantec

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Jeremy Kirk

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Will your data protection strategy be enough when disaster strikes?

    Speakers: - Paul O’Connor, Engagement leader - Performance Audit Group, Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) - Nigel Phair, Managing Director, Centre for Internet Safety - Joshua Stenhouse, Technical Evangelist, Zerto - Anthony Caruana, CSO MC & Moderator

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place