Hackers Might be Monitoring Millions of Android Devices

  • By Patrick Ryan
  • Apr 27, 2022

Check Point, cyber security specialists based in Israel, reports flawed chipset bugs in Android smartphones have created an opportunity for digital criminals to perform comprehensive spying. In particular, three specific security bugs have been identified in Android phones.

What, Exactly, are the Bugs, and How are They Used?

Audio decoders within Android smartphone chips made by MediaTek and Qualcomm present an opportunity for adversaries to access the devices remotely. If the chipset bugs are not resolved, there is the potential that digital miscreants will illegally use those weaknesses to access smartphone users’ audio conversations and digital media stored on the phones.  

Check Point’s digital security team points out that these vulnerabilities also have the potential to be used as a launchpad to perform RCE attacks. RCE is an acronym short for remote code execution. A hacker simply needs to transmit a specialized audio file to the targeted Android smartphone with the unresolved vulnerability, and they will obtain remote access.

Which Chipsets are Vulnerable?

Chipsets made by Qualcomm and MediaTek are used in Android smartphones and are vulnerable. The weaknesses pertain to the ALAC code as referenced below. The MediaTek vulnerability is referred to as CVE-2021-0674 and has a CVSS score of 5.5. This flaw has an insufficient input validation within the ALAC decoder that permits the disclosure of information without users taking any action.  

Another MediaTek chipset vulnerability is CVE-2021-0675, with a 7.8 CVSS score. This second vulnerability includes a privilege escalation weakness in the ALAC decoder resulting from a write that is considered out-of-bounds. Finally, the Qualcomm chipset bug, referred to as CVE-2021-30351, has a CVSS score of 9.8. The Qualcomm chipset bug has out-of-bounds memory access resulting from the failure to validate frames passed amidst music playing.

Why are RCE Vulnerabilities a Problem?

RCE vulnerabilities are especially problematic in the context of digital security as they set the stage for hackers to execute malware or empower digital miscreants to obtain control over a target’s multimedia data. It is even possible for hackers to take advantage of an RCE vulnerability to stream from the targeted Android smartphone’s internal camera. Especially creative digital criminals will take advantage of the weakness to heighten privileges for unprivileged apps, ultimately allowing access to text message conversations and media data.

Have Digital Security Specialists Named the Chipset Bugs?

The digital security specialists studying the vulnerabilities refer to the chipset bugs “ALHACK” in reference to Apple Lossless Audio Codec. The weaknesses are based on a format for audio coding first developed and open-sourced through Apple a decade ago. Also known as Apple Lossless, this audio coding format serves the purpose of compressing lossless information relating to digital music files.

Third-party vendors, including the likes of MediaTek, are now using the tech giant’s audio codec for decoding audio. Apple deserves to be commended for updating its audio codec with regular patching. Apple also proactively addressed digital security shortcomings in the decoder to prevent identity theft. However, the codec was open-sourced, meaning it was available for upgrades by the coding community, meaning it has been tinkered with yet not updated since shifting to Github.

What Actions Have the Chipset Makers Taken?

Both Qualcomm and MediaTek have closed the vulnerabilities. The bugs were addressed in the final month of 2021 after Check Point’s testing revealed the vulnerabilities that empowered hackers to take control of Android phones’ cameras and other capabilities with surprising ease. However, Android smartphone users with devices made before 2021 might still be vulnerable if the bugs in their chips have not been resolved.
 

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