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8/12/2008
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Researcher Wants To Charge Nokia, Sun For Phone Vulnerability

Polish researcher Adam Gowdiak said he's discovered 14 security issues with J2ME on Nokia handsets, but he's charging the vendors for full details.

A security researcher said he has discovered serious vulnerabilities in the mobile Java technology on some Nokia handsets, but his method of raising awareness of this bug is potentially controversial.

Security researcher Adam Gowdiak, who is setting up the security company Security Explorations, said he's found 14 vulnerabilities in Java 2 Micro Edition (J2ME) that could allow hackers to attack Nokia's Series 40 handsets.

Gowdiak told InformationWeek he provided Sun Microsystems and Nokia with a briefing of the vulnerabilities he's uncovered. But he's charging the companies 20,000 euros, or about $29,870, to get the rest of the 178-page report detailing the security flaws, including two proof-of-concept tests.

The Nokia Series 40 is a proprietary platform that operates the majority of the company's midrange handsets. This means that potentially hundreds of millions of devices are at risk, Gowdiak said.

With only the phone number, an attacker could send a series of messages that could exploit the flaw by putting malicious Java applications on the handset. This could allow the hacker to make calls, access the SIM card, record conversations, and install applications on the handset without the owner's knowledge, Gowdiak said.

"This could completely wipe out any security within J2ME," Gowdiak said.

He recognized that the approach would be controversial, but he said he thinks this is the best way to fund his startup.

"I know there will be some who hate this, but I am hoping to set up a world-class security research center and the company needs funds to do that," Gowdiak said. "I am good at revealing security weaknesses, and this report represents an enormous amount of research."

He scoffs at the notion that he is blackmailing the companies as he said Sun and Nokia have been briefed on the issue. Additionally, the researcher said the vulnerability report will only be available to security firms, vendors, telecommunication companies, and government agencies.

Nokia and Sun did not comment or confirm the flaws by press time.

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