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PSA: Oops! Qualcomm chip flaw leaves Android phones open to possible eavesdropping

By Ken Wong - on 7 May 2021, 12:41pm

PSA: Oops! Qualcomm chip flaw leaves Android phones open to possible eavesdropping

Up to 30% of the Android smartphones in the world could be at risk. Image courtesy of Pexels.

Smartphones from ASUS, Google, Samsung, LG, Xiaomi, OnePlus, and more who use Qualcomm’s mobile station modem (MSM) could be at risk of being exploited by a vulnerability discovered by Check Point Research (CPR). Check Point estimates that 30% of Android phones in the world could be at risk.  

Additionally, in August 2020, CPR found over 400 vulnerabilities on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon DSP (Digital Signal Processor) chip that also threatened the usability of mobile phones.

Qualcomm’s MSM supports advanced features like 4G LTE, 5G, and high-definition recording. Smartphone manufacturers can also customise the chips so they can perform additional functions like unlocking the phone.

 

How it works

According to Slava Makkaveev, a security researcher at CPR, they discovered a vulnerability in a modem data service that could be exploited through the Qualcomm MSM Interface (QMI), a protocol that fosters communication between software in the MSM and device peripherals such as cameras and fingerprint scanners.

This means an attacker could have used this vulnerability to inject malicious code into the modem from Android, giving them access to the device user’s call history and SMS, as well as the ability to listen to the device user’s conversations. A hacker can also exploit the vulnerability to unlock the device’s SIM, thereby overcoming the limitations imposed by service providers on it.

Qualcomm was notified of the issue by Check Point and defined it as a high-rated vulnerability that was classified as CVE-2020-11292. As of Qualcomm’s May Security Bulletin released four days ago, there was no mention of it or a resolution.

Some reports have said that Qualcomm has released a patch and notified the relevant device vendors, but when we reached out to them for a comment, they were unable to respond at the time of publishing. We will update this article when we hear back from them. 

 

Keeping yourself safe

Securing smartphones requires following mobile-specific security best practices:

  • Mobile devices should always be updated to the latest version of the OS to protect against the exploitation of vulnerabilities.
  • Only installing apps downloaded from official app stores reduces the probability of downloading and installing a mobile malware
  • Enable ‘remote wipe’ capability on all mobile devices. All devices should have remote wipe enabled to minimise the probability of loss of sensitive data.
  • Install a security solution on your device.
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