Camera apps from other manufacturers may still be susceptible. The weakness, which was discovered by researchers from security firm Checkmarx, represented a potential privacy risk to high-value targets, such as those preyed upon by nation-sponsored spies. Google carefully designed its Android operating system to bar apps from accessing cameras and microphones without explicit permission from end users. An investigation published Tuesday showed it was trivial to bypass those restrictions. The investigation found that an app needed no permissions at all to cause the camera to shoot pictures and record video and audio.
App on Google Play exploited Android bug to deliver spyware
To upload the images and video—or any other image and video stored on the phone—to an attacker-controlled server, an app needed only permission to access storage, which is among one of the most commonly given usage rights. The weakness, which is tracked as CVE, also allowed would-be attackers to track the physical location of the device, assuming GPS data was embedded into images or videos. Google closed the eavesdropping hole in its Pixel line of devices with a camera update that became available in July. Checkmarx said Samsung has also fixed the vulnerability, although it wasn't clear when that happened.
Checkmarx said Google has indicated that Android phones from other manufacturers may also be vulnerable. The specific makers and models haven't been disclosed. To demonstrate the risk, Checkmarx developed a proof-of-concept rogue app that exploited the weakness.
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It masqueraded as a simple weather app. Hidden inside were functions that could:. But when we got the storage permission, it was very easy to get pictures and videos taken in live or from past sessions, and to get all the information from them. LO: So talk about how an attacker could launch this attack, right?
EY: Yes, this is exactly the vector of attack. The application we created was kind of a fake weather app. But it could be also anything else.
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Or would they see the storage permission but not see that that implies that an attacker could have those broader set of storage permissions or what would a potential user see from from their standpoint? And that was kind of fun for us as researchers because it was kind of an evolution of the attack. First we managed to invoke a selfie, but obviously, the victim would both see the screen taking a picture and also hear the click of the shutter of the camera.
As you said, the storage permission is nothing that would raise the red flag. And also after taking a video or a picture without the victim knowing, that we could have deleted it from the storage after sending it to the hacker. So there is absolutely no trace. LO: Right. Now you guys were using the Google Pixel 2 XL on the Google Pixel 3 when you started researching the Google camera app, but then you found after further digging that the same vulnerabilities are on camera apps of other smartphone vendors, right?
How many vendors are potentially impacted? And they actually contacted all the vendors of the Android ecosystem.
Camera and mic could be controlled by any app, no permission required.
They indeed told us that there are some vendors that are affected by the same thing. And we did not actually bother to check because our goal is basically to let everyone know that they need to check their apps. There might be other companies that have. LO: Yes, I mean, speaking of disclosure, you mentioned in the research that when you reach out to Google, you had a positive experience in terms of disclosure and rolling out patches, can you talk a little bit about what they did to mitigate the issue and the process of rolling out those fixes.
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Usually they are very serious with triaging the issues. And the same happened here. Quite quickly, they triaged it and decided that this the severity of this issue is high. The first release of the patch fixed the issue, but they were not sure that it does not break other functionalities. So we decided to wait with the publication until they release the final patch.
And we definitely understood that. But when it comes to third party app permissions in general, I feel like this is really becoming a bigger issue in terms of data privacy and data collection, especially because videos and photos are so personal. Definitely if there are children or the specific app is, is really trending. This is something that we need maybe to put more more focus and awareness on and education of consumers. And if it makes sense.
But in general, try to download only applications that you really feel secure about. Are these patches automatic at this point, or do they need to update? So if users have automatic updates on your phone turned on then they should be safe. Top charts. New releases. Add to Wishlist. SpyWare Detection and Removal. Is anybody spying on you? Extremely easy to use. Protect yourself from all sorts of Spy Apps. Everybody should have one installed. SMSs, Call Lists, Pictures, Videos and other Files can be sent from your device to some unknown receiver - without you knowing anything about it.
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