Hackers Can Control Your Phone Using a Tool That’s Already Built Into It

One of the vulnerable phones: the HTC One M7.


One of the vulnerable phones: the HTC One M7.  Ariel Zambelich/WIRED

A lot of concern about the NSA’s seemingly omnipresent surveillance over the last year has focused on the agency’s efforts to install back doors in software and hardware. Those efforts are greatly aided, however, if the agency can piggyback on embedded software already on a system that can be exploited.

Two researchers have uncovered such built-in vulnerabilities in a large number of smartphones that would allow government spies and sophisticated hackers to install malicious code and take control of the device.

The attacks would require proximity to the phones, using a rogue base station or femtocell, and a high level of skill to pull off. But it took Mathew Solnik and Marc Blanchou, two research consultants with Accuvant Labs, just a few months to discover the vulnerabilities and exploit them.

The vulnerabilities lie within a device management tool carriers and manufacturers embed in handsets and tablets to remotely configure them. Though some design their own tool, most use a tool developed by a specific third-party vendor—which the researchers will not identify until they present their findings next week at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas.  The tool is used in some form in more than 2 billion phones worldwide. The vulnerabilities, they say, were found so far in Android and BlackBerry devices and a small number of Apple iPhones used by Sprint customers. They haven’t looked at Windows Mobile devices yet.

The researchers say there’s no sign that anyone has exploited the vulnerabilities in the wild, and the company that makes the tool has issued a fix that solves the problem. But it’s now up to carriers to distribute it to users in a firmware update.

Carriers use the management tool to send over-the-air firmware upgrades, to remotely configure handsets for roaming or voice-over WiFi and to lock the devices to specific service providers. But each carrier and manufacturer has its own custom implementation of the client, and there are many that provide the carrier with an array of additional features.

To give carriers the ability to do these things, the management tool operates at the highest level of privilege on devices, which means an attacker who accesses and exploits the tool has the same abilities as the carriers.

The management tools are implemented using a core standard, developed by the Open Mobile Alliance, called OMA device management. From these guidelines, each carrier can choose a base set of features or request additional ones. Solnik says they found that some phones have features for remotely wiping the device or conducting a factory reset, altering operating system settings and even remotely changing the PIN for the screen lock.

They’ve also found systems that allow the carrier to identify nearby WiFi networks, remotely enable and disable Bluetooth or disable the phone’s camera. More significantly, they’ve found systems that allow the carrier to identify the applications on a handset, as well as activate or deactivate them or even add and remove applications. The systems give the carrier the option of making these changes with our without prompting the consumer. Carriers also can modify settings and servers for applications pre-installed by the carrier—something hackers could exploit to force the phone to communicate with a server of their choosing.

Furthermore, some of the systems can monitor the web browser’s home page and in some cases retrieve synced contacts. Others include a call redirect function that can direct the phone to a specific phone number. Carriers typically use this feature to program shortcuts to their own phone numbers. For example, Verizon might program its phones so “299″ dials customer service. But Solnik found this feature can be used to redirect any number; phone numbers also can be programmed to launch an application.

“Pretty much whatever number … if we programmed it, when you dial it, it would do whatever functionality we programmed it to do,” Solnik says. “Whether you have the number 1 programmed for your mother, it would then do what we choose.”

The more features the management tool offers the carrier, the more an attacker can do as well. But at a minimum, every device they examined would allow an attacker to change all of the cellular network functionality. In many cases, they could also control firmware updates.

And even the phones that use only the most basic management system have memory corruption vulnerabilities that would still allow a hacker to execute code or install malicious applications, they found.

Two phones that provided the highest level of exploitation were the HTC One M7 and the Blackberry Z10. Among iOS devices, they found that only iPhones offered by Sprint and running an operating system prior to version 7.0.4 were vulnerable. The 7.0.4 version of the software, which Apple released in November, partially solved the issue.

The Blackberry Z10.

The Blackberry Z10.  Blackberry

Carriers recognize the risk these management tools present, and many have added encryption and authentication to bolster security. Accessing the management system in the device, for example, often requires a password. And the researchers found every carrier in the US encrypts communication between a device and the carrier’s server. But these protections are so poorly implemented that the researchers could undermine them.

“Pretty much all the safeguards put into place to protect the clients in nearly all major devices we found can be bypassed,” Solnik says.

In the case of the authentication, for example, they found that the systems use passwords that are generated in part using a public identifier—that is, the IMEI, or the cell phone’s serial number. That number is readily available by any base station that communicates with the phone. Solnik says that although each carrier’s system uses a slightly different method for generating passwords, they’re all based on the same core.

“They’re all taking a certain public identifier and a certain pre-shared token or secret and using that to derive the password,” he says. “There is some secret sauce added, but because it’s derived from this token that is already public knowledge, that can be reverse-engineered and reproduced…. We can more or less pre-calculate all passwords for any device in order to manage the client.”

They also found many ways to undermine the encryption. “It does require a deep understanding of what it’s doing, but once you understand how it works, you can pretty much turn off or just bypass or man-in-the-middle the encryption itself,” Solnik says.

Although the vulnerabilities are basic from a security perspective, exploiting them is not. Each requires extensive knowledge of the OMA-DM standard implementation and how cellular networks work. A successful hack also requires setting up a cellular base transceiver station or finding a vulnerability in a femtocell to take it over and use it for the attack. And cracking the encryption is also not trivial. Nonetheless, anyone with the same level of knowledge and skill as the researchers could conduct the attacks.

That said, the researchers don’t believe anyone has exploited the vulnerabilities so far.

“During our disclosure with the vendors, different vendors have processes to look through to see if there are any traces of someone exploiting the vulnerabilities and we haven’t heard that there are any traces that anyone has seen so far,” says Ryan Smith, chief scientist at Accuvant.

Solnik and Blanchou have notified the firm that makes the management tool used by so many, and the company has already issued a fix. They also notified baseband manufacturers, who have written code that would implement that fix. Carriers are in the process of distributing a fix to existing phones.

“It’s important that all users … stay up to date with all the latest patches,” Solnik says. “Users should contact their carrier to see if an update is already available.”

Source: http://www.wired.com/2014/07/hackers-can-control-your-phone-using-a-tool-thats-already-built-into-it/


Blackphone Promises NSA-Proof Smartphone

19/01/2014 09:45
Ever since Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the National Security Agency's spy games, the world has been clamoring for a more secure way to communicate.

Blackphone—a joint venture between Silent Circle and Geeksphone—may be the answer.

The first device to place privacy and control directly in the consumer's hands, Blackphone runs free of carriers and vendors. The vendors say the Android-based PrivatOS provides users a safe place to make and receive phone calls, exchange texts, transfer and store files, and video chat, without fear of the government eavesdropping.

According to Geeksphone CEO Javier Agüera, the PrivatOS system comes with access to the same familiar Android applications, but with an added level of privacy.

"Blackphone is a journey built upon privacy, control, and security, wrapped in a high-end smartphone built by a very innovative all-star team of cryptographers, security, and mobile innovators," Silent Circle CEO Mike Janke said in the Blackphone video (below).

From the minds behind data encryption program PGP (Pretty Good Privacy), Spanish smartphone maker Geeksphone, and global encrypted communications service Silent Circle, Blackphone is the culmination of years' worth of ideas, prototypes, and updated technology.

"I have spent my whole career working towards the launch of secure telephony products," data encryption program PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) creator Phil Zimmermann said in a statement. "Blackphone provides users with everything they need to ensure privacy and control of their communications, along with all the other high-end smartphone features they have come to expect."

Blackphone is expected to make its debut next month at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona; it will be available for pre-order beginning Feb. 24.

For more, see The NSA and the End of Privacy, as well as 7 Chilling Ways the NSA Can Spy On You.


Boeing Black: This smartphone will self-destruct.. by Alwyn Scott

01/03/2014 20:40


The Boeing logo is seen at their headquarters in Chicago, April 24, 2013. REUTERS/Jim Young

(Reuters) - Boeing Co (BA.N) on Wednesday unveiled a smartphone that appears to come straight from a James Bond spy movie.

In addition to encrypting calls, any attempt to open the casing of the Boeing Black Smartphone deletes all data and renders the device inoperable.

The secure phone marks an extension of the communications arm of the Chicago-basedaerospace and defense contractor, which is best known for jetliners and fighter planes.

Such a phone might have prevented damage to Washington's diplomacy in Ukraine from a leaked telephone call. A senior U.S. State Department officer and the ambassador to Ukraine apparently used unencrypted cellphones for a call about political developments in Ukraine that became public.

Boeing's tamper-proof phone is aimed at government agencies and contractors who need to keep communication and data secure, according to Boeing and filings with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.

Made in the United States, the phone runs on Google Inc's (GOOG.O) Android operating system. The 5.2-by-2.7-inch handset, slightly larger than an iPhone, uses dual SIM cards to enable it to access multiple cell networks instead of a single network like a normal cellphone.

Due to the phone's security features, Boeing is releasing few details about the wireless network operators or manufacturer it is working with, and has not provided a price or date by which the phone might be widely available, but said it has begun offering the phone to potential customers.

Boeing's website says the phone can be configured to connect with biometric sensors or satellites. Other attachments can extend battery life or use solar power.

The phone can operate on the WCDMA, GSM and LTE frequency bands and offers WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity.

The company has been developing the phone for 36 months, said Boeing spokeswoman Rebecca Yeamans.

"We saw a need for our customers in a certain market space" that Boeing could meet with its technology expertise, she said.

A sample purchase contract submitted to the FCC says the phone would be sold directly by Boeing or its agents.

Yeamans said Boeing combined its own engineers with the talent of people who joined Boeing recently through acquisitions that included Argon ST Inc, Digital Receiver Technology Inc, Kestrel Enterprises Inc, Ravenwing Inc, and Solutions Made Simple Inc.

(Reporting by Alwyn Scott; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)