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Researchers Earn $100,000 for Hacking Pixel Phone

A team of researchers has earned more than $100,000 from Google for an Android exploit chain that can be used to hack the company’s Pixel phone remotely simply by getting the targeted user to access a malicious website.

Google’s Pixel phone was the only device that was not hacked at last year’s Mobile Pwn2Own competition. However, researcher Guang Gong of Chinese security firm Qihoo 360 and his team did manage to find a couple of vulnerabilities that can be chained for a remote code injection exploit that works against Pixel and other Android smartphones.

The exploit relies on two vulnerabilities: CVE-2017-5116 and CVE-2017-14904. The former is a type confusion flaw in the V8 open-source JavaScript engine and it can be exploited for remote code execution in a sandboxed Chrome render process. Google patched this security hole in September with the release of Chrome 61.

The second vulnerability affects Android's libgralloc module and it can be exploited to escape the Chrome sandbox. This privilege escalation flaw was patched by Google in December with its monthly Android updates.

Combining the two vulnerabilities allows an attacker to inject arbitrary code into the system_server process by getting the targeted user to access a malicious URL in Chrome.

Gong and his team earned $105,000 for the exploit chain through the Android Security Rewards (ASR) program, and an additional $7,500 through the Chrome bug bounty program. This is the highest reward in the history of the ASR program, which is not surprising considering that it has been paid out for the first remote exploit chain since the ASR program was expanded last summer.

Google announced at the time that rewards for remote exploit chains or exploits leading to TrustZone or Verified Boot compromise increased to $200,000, and bounties for remote kernel exploits increased to $150,000.

Gong has published a guest post on Google’s security and Android developers blogs detailing both vulnerabilities and how the exploit chain works.

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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.