37% of smartphones in the world could have been used for wiretapping

A security research team has discovered that millions of Android users have a chip that could allow malicious apps from the app store to eavesdrop on their chats.

The chip that contains the problem is present in about 37% of smartphones worldwide, and Android users are likely to be attacked by threat actors before the problem is patched.

Stories like these are a reminder that you must take care of your own security and strengthen the privacy provisions of your mobile device instead of relying on the company that makes your phone. Antivirus softwarefor example, on your phone is just as useful as on a traditional computer.

What is the problem with the Chip?

Mediatek’s System-on-Chip (SoC) consists of two things, one called an AI Processing Unit (APU) and another called a Digital Signal Processor (DSP). In short, they help improve media performance and reduce CPU usage in the devices that contain them.

Checkpoint, the security company that identified the problem, said in research results that they”reverse-engineered the MediaTek audio DSP firmware in defiance of unique processor registers and optical codes, and discovered several vulnerabilities accessible from the Android userspace.”

A “malformed interprocessor”, according to Checkpoint’s request, can be used to hide and then execute malicious code inside the DSP firmware and since the DSP inside the device has access to incoming audio (it processes digital signals), it can be used to listen to anyone’s conversation nearby or on the phone.

Interestingly – and quite interestingly – there are no vulnerabilities that require user interaction to be exploited. Thankfully, however, there seems to be little evidence that the vulnerability has been exploited in the wild.

Vulnerabilities under monitoring have been named CVE-2021-0661, CVE-2021-0662, CVE-2021-0663, all three were fixed in October.

The fourth vulnerability, named CVE-2021-0673 introduced in the Mediatek Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL) was also fixed in the same month, but this won’t be announced until December. Researchers at Checkpoint were able to use it. this to circumvent the hardware inside the Mediatek chip they are analyzing.

Why Android users are at risk

Checkpoint estimates that these vulnerabilities are present in more than a third of the world’s smartphones.

In the second quarter of this year, about 43% of smartphones shipped containing Mediatek Chips, up from 24% year-on-year.

If a malicious app on the Android store is fully encrypted, it could theoretically access the internal AI and associated audio data. The vulnerability is certainly a complex one, and it will take some significant engineering to really get there, but it’s entirely possible.

There’s a feature on the Google Play Store called Play Protect that can scan apps on your phone for malware, but it’s still unclear if Play Protect will pick up encrypted apps. to exploit this vulnerability or not.

Security Issues – Especially on phones

Whenever we think of computer viruses, hackers, scammers, and cheaters, many people’s minds go to their desktop or laptop computers. But phones are just smaller computers and are equally susceptible to malware infections and phishing attacks.

It’s paramount these days that you invest in adequate security on the phones and computers you use to work, play games, and watch Netflix. VPNs, for example, are one of the most useful pieces of tech you can invest in your phone – even though they’re more of a security tool first.

Antivirus software also available for phones, which is a good idea if you have Android considering how many Android apps there are on the Google Play Store Detected containing malware and used to be orchestrate phishing attacks. 37% of smartphones in the world could have been used for wiretapping

Caroline Bleakley

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