Viral UpdateCategory: Bugs / Virus
Posted: December 1, 2011 12:25PM
Focusing on smartphones in this update, and because of the information available today, I felt like posting this a day early.
The CarrierIQ issue was first found mid-November, but it is getting some new life in the media this week. This piece of mobile-phone software exists on many smartphones of different brands and operating systems (Android, iOS, and Blackberry) and, on the surface, doesn’t seem too bad. It collects some metrics to give your service provider, so they can improve their service. Of course, what’s above and below the surface are very different. This software, which can be hidden from the user and difficult to remove, can collect keystrokes, location data, apps being used, and web addresses visited.
On some phones the software can be turned off, but not all, and on Android phones, manually removing the software can require root access. The software developer states they do not collect information except for what directly relates to improving handset performance and quality. Still, the abilities this software has would likely be tempting to many malware writers. (A search of CarrierIQ gives many sources of further information.)
Also, from North Carolina State University comes a security analysis of multiple Android based smartphones. Specifically the researchers looked to see how pre-loaded apps can introduce backdoors on the phone, which hackers can utilize. These applications are meant to improve user-experience such as notifying a user to missed calls or text messages. The researchers found the vanilla Android phones had, "no real problems," but HTC’s Legend, EVO 4G, Wildfire S, Motorola’s Droid X, and Samsung’s Epic 4G were not so lucky. Of those, the EVO 4G had the most vulnerabilities.
This was discovered earlier in the year and the manufacturers were notified immediately. For these phones, the best way to stay safe is to install the security patches they get and only install apps you trust.