Security Experts:

Wi-Fi Direct Flaw Exposes Android Devices to DoS Attacks

Researchers from Core Security have identified a vulnerability that can be remotely exploited for denial-of-service (DoS) attacks against certain Android devices.

The vulnerability is an uncaught exception (CVE-2014-0997) that could cause devices to reboot. According to the security firm, an attacker can leverage this flaw when the targeted Android phone is scanning for devices using Wi-Fi Direct, the standard that allows devices to connect with each other without having to go through an access point.

“An attacker could send a specially crafted 802.11 Probe Response frame causing the Dalvik subsystem to reboot because of an Unhandle Exception on WiFiMonitor class,” Core Security wrote in an advisory published on Monday.

The vulnerability has been successfully reproduced on a Nexus 4 and a Nexus 5 running Android 4.4.4, on an LG D806 and a Samsung SM-T310 running Android 4.2.2, and on a Motorola RAZR HD with Android 4.1.2 installed. Other devices might also be affected, but the flaw does not impact Android 5.0.1 and Android 5.0.2.

Researchers informed Google of the vulnerability in late September 2014. In mid-October, the Android security team told Core Security that the issue was classified as “low severity.” The security firm does not agree with this classification, but Google seems to maintain its position.

The Android security team says it currently does not have a timeline for releasing a fix.

Until the flaw is addressed, Core Security advises users to avoid utilizing Wi-Fi Direct or update their Android installations to a version that is not vulnerable.

Earlier this month, Google announced that it’s no longer patching vulnerabilities affecting older versions of the WebKit component. The search giant has decided not to patch flaws in the pre-KitKat WebKit because the company believes it’s no longer practical.

While some experts have condemned Google for exposing hundreds of millions of devices to cyberattacks, others believe this move will reduce the negative impact of Android fragmentation.

"Lookout doesn't have hard data to confirm or deny this hypothesis, but it is our belief that the majority of devices in the world are either on an upgrade path to 4.4 or later, or they are generally not receiving updates at all. Therefore, the likely exposure to this policy change will likely not be very large, as in the former case, you're in the clear, and in the latter case, you would be vulnerable either way,” Jeremy Linden, security product manager at Lookout, told SecurityWeek.

“We certainly believe the changes made by Google to allow upgrades to WebKit (as well as other components of the OS) outside of OEM/carrier pushes are very positive changes that reduce the impact of Android fragmentation for security issues,” Linden said.

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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.