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12/10/2009
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Droid Smartphone Hacked

Exploit lets phone users gain administrative root access to Google Android-based phones

First the iPhone, now the Droid: A hacker has unleashed an exploit that lets a user wrest administrative root control of his or her Motorola Droid smartphone.

The code, which was posted on the AllDroid online forum, lets a user gain root privileges to either Motorola Droid Android 2.0 or Android 2.0.1 version phones. That basically means a user can run whatever themes, gadgets, and applications he or she wants -- akin to a jailbroken iPhone. The Droid, which is based on Google's Android operating system, runs on Verizon's network.

Unlocking or jailbreaking comes with its risks, too, of course: Not only could it possibly "brick" or render the device unoperational and deactivate its warranty, but a jailbroken phone also leaves the door open for malware writers.

Andrew Storms, director of security operations for nCircle, says the danger to enterprises is that users could then work around any IT security policies. "I'm telling IT, 'Don't ignore people coming back after Christmas with their new Droids,'" Storms says. "They are going to want them for work, and you have to get one and see what you can do to reach a compromise."

Treat mobile devices like laptops, he says. "Now you have this mobile device where an end user can continually make any changes that he desires. Now it becomes an untrusted platform, and it's unknown what the user has done, installed, or subverted," whether the user realizes it or not, he says. "Enterprise IT should be concerned."

Just what the "rooted" Droid means for consumer users is unclear, Storms says. "It's still too early to say what a rooted Android looks like... It's only been 48 hours since the [exploit] went public," he says.

While the iPhone has a big jump on the Droid in terms of smartphone popularity, the open-source Android operating system is attractive because of its relatively aggressive pricing. "My predictions for mobile malware follow the same trends you see with PCs," Storms says. And that means more phishing attacks, botnets recruiting smartphones, and other malware, he says.

"Attackers are still going after your personal and private information, whether it's on a PC or mobile device," he says.

The challenge for securing these devices is that users can easily "let down their guard" more easily than when on their PCs, he says. "On the road or in a bar" you're more likely to click on something you would not while at your desk, Storms says.

And the Droid's appeal to hackers will increase as it becomes more pervasive, he says, which is likely to jump significantly in 2010. "I'm predicting huge sales of smartphones in 2010," he says. "The Droid has a cheaper price point," which will boost its sales and the potential for malware and attacks, he says.

Meanwhile, the root exploit and instructions for jailbreaking the Droid are posted here.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message. Kelly Jackson Higgins is Executive Editor at DarkReading.com. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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