Australian mobile carriers in the dark on Samsung security hole

Samsung is facing tough questions from Australian mobile carriers following the publication of a software security flaw with the potential to comprise hundreds of millions of its smartphones.

Ryan Welton a researcher for mobile security specialists, NowSecure, published details of the exploit on the company’s blog.

Mr Welton’s blog demonstrated a security weakness in Samsung’s SwiftKey keyboard app that could allow an attacker to install malicious software on the handset maker’s Galaxy series smartphones remotely via unsecure Wi-Fi access points or mobile base stations without any interaction with its owner.

NowSecure said that the flaw essentially allows a sophisticated hacker to exploit the keyboard application’s software update features inject malicious code onto a targeted device.

NowSecure argued that the security flaw impacts over 600 million smartphones including the Galaxy S6 and that it could only be addressed by a mobile carrier software upgrade.

The software patch, if it is issued, could be a long way off.

A spokesman for Vodafone Australia said that the bug had “caught everyone by surprise” including Samsung which was today still investigating NowSecure’s assertion.

"We are aware of the claim and are assured by Samsung it is investigating. We will provide further information as soon as it is available," Vodafone’s spokesman said.

Telstra also said it was consulting with Samsung.

“We’ve just learned of the report and we’re seeking further information from Samsung,” a Telstra spokesman said.

Optus directed CSO’s queries to Samsung.

“Any potential issue lies with Samsung so you are best to speak with them directly,” an Optus spokeswoman said.

Samsung’s local media representatives today issued a brief statement saying that it was still investigating NowSecure’s claims.

“Samsung Electronics Australia takes security threats very seriously. We are committed to providing the latest mobile security and we are working quickly to investigate and resolve the matter. We will provide further information as it becomes available,” a spokesman for Samsung said. Some commentators have questioned NowSecure’s technical reasoning and accused the company of being alarmist on grounds that the chances that a handset user would fall victim to an attack using the flaw would be remote.

AndroidPolice, a US based website that specialised in providing news and updates regarding the Android operating system used in the Samsung phones, said that the flaw was “probably nothing to worry about”.

“An attack would also be rather involved - essentially, a malicious party would have to have already deeply compromised the security of the network you're on and use DNS hijacking or a similar man-in-the-middle exploit to redirect your phone to a fake language pack update that could then potentially inject your device with malicious code…This would make it quite difficult to exploit reliably, let alone on any sort of scale,” the site reported.

SwiftKey told AndroidPolice that versions of its application available on the Google Play app store were “not affected” by the vulnerability. However, NowSecure repudiated any suggestion that this meant the devices were safe.

Read more: The week in security: Struggling to get smarter about mobile apps

“The Play store version of the app has NO impact on the system level keyboard and does not remove the vulnerability, as it remains active even when not in use. This means it can still be exploited by an attacker,” NowSecure responded.

This article is brought to you by Enex TestLab, content directors for CSO Australia.

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Tags AndroidPolicesoftware patchsecurity holeoptusunsecure Wi-FiCSO AustraliaTelstraNowSecureRyan WeltonsamsungAustralian mobile carriers

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