Lately there have been two much published reports of vulnerabilities which threatens billions of mobile phones. First, in July it was vulnerability in the firmware of a little known chip powering almost all modern smartphones, a Wi-Fi chip made by Broadcom. The vulnerability, known as BroadPwn, allows a smartphone to be infected simply by looking for known networks, something that all mobile phones do regularly. In theory the vulnerability could also be used convert the Wi-Fi chip into an access point, so that it could automatically spread itself to other phones, potentially spreading worldwide in just a few hours. You can read more about this vulnerability in this Wired article. As the firmware can be updated through the operating system any phone not updated since July is likely to be vulnerable.
While the Broadcom vulnerability was based on insecure Wi-Fi firmware the latest vulnerability from just a few days ago is found in Bluetooth drivers. Known as BlueBorne this vulnerability is found in Windows, Linux (including Android), and in older iOS versions. This vulnerability allows an attacker to connect to an active Bluetooth device, and by sending a specially crafted connection packet it is possible to execute code included with the packet. This attack is different from the vulnerability in the Broadcom chip in that it requires the attacker to connect to you, and that the vulnerability is actually in OS software, not in the firmware run directly on the chip.
Common to both of these attacks is that they are “clickless”, that is, there is no interaction required from the user of the phone. This aspect makes the attack extremely dangerous, as there is no way to know whether you’ve been exposed to an attack or not, with the possible exception of having both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi disabled on your phone.
We at Protectoria believe that it is impossible to claim that the underlying operating systems on modern smartphones are secure. Even the latest phones have well known security vulnerabilities, not to talk about the vast number of phones which has not been updated in years. We also believe that there are many unknown security problems, and that the vulnerabilities found so far are only a small fraction of the likely problems. One example is that the 3G and GSM chips found in modern smartphones often have firmware going back a decade, where the producers of these chips never imagined how easy it would be to make your own base station for mobile networks. It is almost a certainty that there are vulnerabilities in these chips. In order to protect your applications we at Protectoria have chosen a different route: By enabling a secure execution environment inside your apps, protecting only the most sensitive parts of your applications, such as transaction security. To learn more about the Protectoria Secure Mobile Platform (PSMP) please see our whitepapers at www.protectoria.com.
It should also be noted that Broadcom also makes chips for computers, so if your laptop hasn’t had its drivers (and not just the operating system!) updated in a while there is a good chance that your laptop is vulnerable to at least one the vulnerabilities described here.