Android Phones Are Vulnerable To Israeli Surveillance Dealer Attack, Google Warns
Google issued an alert overnight about a fresh vulnerability affecting hundreds of millions of Android phones, including its own Pixel 2. According to Google security researcher Maddie Stone, the weakness is actively being used against targets of the Israeli spyware dealer NSO Group.
Tim Willis, a manager at Google’s Project Zero security research team, noted the issue was rated as “high severity,” adding that a malicious application could also be used to launch an attack via the vulnerability.
If you own any of the following phones, your device likely remains vulnerable today as patches are not yet available: the Google Pixel 2, Huawei P20. Xiaomi Redmi 5A, Xiaomi Redmi Note 5. Xiaomi A1, Moto Z3, Oreo LG phones and the Samsung S7, S8, S9 models. Those are some of the most popular Android phones in existence today. Huawei has shipped over 16 million P20 smartphones around the world, according to the Chinese company’s figures from the end of 2018.
Stone said the underlying issue was fixed in Android back in December 2017, but “the Pixel 2 with most recent security bulletin is still vulnerable based on source code review.” The same is true for all those other Android phones, though Google didn’t explain why the patches didn’t prevent the latest exploits from working. Google also didn’t note why it had attributed the hacks to NSO Group.
The problem was defined by Stone as a kernel privilege escalation bug, which means it provided a way for a hacker who’d already found a way onto the device to get deeper access, right into the heart of the Android operating system. Getting control of the kernel allows a hacker to do almost whatever they like on the phone, grabbing much of the data within. Whoever was exploiting the vulnerability would have likely used other bugs, combining them in what’s known as an “exploit chain” to completely own an Android device remotely.
Just last month, similar attacks were launched in China, as Uighur-focused websites were hacked and used to infect iPhone and Android smartphones that landed on its pages.