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Newly Announced Chipset Vuln Affects 900 Million Android Devices

Check Point Research Team details four vulnerabilities that can easily lead to full privilege escalation.

Over 900 million Android smartphones and tablets are at risk of a full device compromise due to a dangerous grouping of vulnerabilities found and discussed at length at Defcon yesterday by researchers with Check Point Research Team. Dubbed the QuadRooter vulnerabilities, each of the foursome uncovered by these researchers enables attackers to trigger privilege escalation and eventually achieve root in affected devices.

All four vulnerabilities are hidden in different software drivers control communication between hardware components developed in Qualcomm chipsets for these devices. They're found in four different modules: the inter-process communication router module, a shared memory feature, and two different graphics modules. They're folded directly into the Android operating system developed for each original equipment manufacturer (OEM) that uses these chipsets within their devices, including Samsung, HTC, Motorola and LG, among many others.

"An attacker can exploit these vulnerabilities using a malicious app," wrote Check Point researchers in a report on the vulnerabilities. "These apps require no special permissions to take advantage of these vulnerabilities, alleviating any suspicion users may have when installing."

 First disclosed to Qualcomm back in April, the vulnerabilities have been acknowledged by Qualcomm and ranked as high risk by the hardware company, which released patches to all affected OEMs. But this is yet another situation that highlights the tangled mess that is the vulnerability management process within the extremely fragmented Android marketplace.

The difficulty rests in the complicated nature of the Android device supply chain, which is not monolithic the way Apple's is due to the fact that the platform is used by so many different device manufacturers. Not only are there the OEM handset manufacturers that build out the devices, there are suppliers like Qualcomm that build the pieces and connecting software modules that are put together in the final product.

 "Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) combine these software modules, Android builds from Google, and their own customizations to create a unique Android build for a particular device," explains the report. "Distributors resell the devices, often including their own customizations and apps –creating yet another unique Android build. When patches are required, they must flow through this supply chain before making it onto an end user’s device."

The process of rolling up a patch for a vulnerability like these found within a device component all the way up into individual builds can take an exceedingly long amount of time, if it happens at all. In many cases current devices in the hands of users are never patched because older versions of the Android platform don't support any further updates. Further adding a wrinkle into this is the fact that most of the updates that need to be made in devices already on the market are pushed out by another third-party, the network carrier. 

It is a thorny issue, and one without an immediate fix, though the Feds, for one, are already looking into it. In May, the Federal Trade Commission ordered a study to be carried out to figure out why the process is so broken. 

In this case, Check Point has released a new utility that helps individual users figure out if their devices are affected by QuadRooter.

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Ericka Chickowski specializes in coverage of information technology and business innovation. She has focused on information security for the better part of a decade and regularly writes about the security industry as a contributor to Dark Reading.  View Full Bio

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