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Critical Stagefright Vulnerabilities Expose 950 Million Android Devices

Enterprise mobile security firm Zimperium has identified a series of critical remote code execution vulnerabilities affecting the Android operating system. The company believes these are the “worst” Android flaws discovered to date.

Enterprise mobile security firm Zimperium has identified a series of critical remote code execution vulnerabilities affecting the Android operating system. The company believes these are the “worst” Android flaws discovered to date.

Compared by Zimperium to the notorious OpenSSL bug dubbed Heartbleed, the vulnerabilities are related to the Android media playback engine Stagefright. The flaws can be exploited remotely with the aid of maliciously crafted multimedia files.

According to the security company, the Stagefright issues impact 95 percent of gadgets running Android, which translates to roughly 950 million devices.

Joshua Drake, vice president of platform research and exploitation at Zimperium, will provide additional details on these vulnerabilities at the upcoming Black Hat and DEF CON conferences.

The vulnerabilities allow a malicious actor to compromise a device simply by knowing the targeted user’s phone number, the security firm said. The exploit can be delivered to the victim via an MMS message or Google Hangouts and it gets executed without any user interaction. The attacker can even delete the message once the malicious code is executed and the victim only sees the message notification.

“These vulnerabilities are extremely dangerous because they do not require that the victim take any action to be exploited. Unlike spear-phishing, where the victim needs to open a PDF file or a link sent by the attacker, this vulnerability can be triggered while you sleep,” Zimperium explained in a blog post. “Before you wake up, the attacker will remove any signs of the device being compromised and you will continue your day as usual – with a trojaned phone.”

The vulnerabilities affect all Android versions since 2.2, but releases prior to 4.1 Jelly Bean are the most exposed because they lack efficient exploit mitigations, Zimperium said.

Google addressed the Stagefright vulnerabilities in internal code branches within 48 hours after being notified and provided with patches by Zimperium. The mobile security firm says Google has been working with the Open Handset Alliance (OHA) to ensure that handset manufacturers and mobile operators take steps to protect their customers.

However, it could still take a lot of time until Android users receive the OTA firmware updates needed to patch the flaws. Furthermore, Zimperium believes older devices might not get the updates at all.

The Stagefright vulnerabilities have already been patched in Silent Circle’s Blackphone with the release of PrivatOS 1.1.7, and in Mozilla’s Firefox web browser with the release of version 38.

Related: Google Fixes Privilege Escalation Vulnerabilities in Android 5.1 Lollipop

Written By

Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.

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