Android flaw puts millions of users at risk

The problem involves hundreds of apps on the Google Play Store that leave an "open door" allowing hackers to control the smartphone

A flaw is putting Android users at risk: an "open door" is to blame. The discovery comes from a team of researchers at the University of Michigan. An "open port" is a communication interface typically used by server applications to receive requests from remote clients.

Many Android apps have this vulnerability that allows cyber criminals to take control of the device and do whatever they want, such as stealing user data or, even worse, installing malware. The "open door" issue is not an unfamiliar technique because it's the same problem faced in the past with computers, but it's something new in the portable device sector. Researchers, in order to determine the extent of the phenomenon, developed a tool - called OPAnalyzer (which stands for Open Port Analyzer) - that scanned about 100,000 popular applications: the results are alarming.

Too many open ports

Researchers identified 1,632 apps that create, once installed, an "open port" on the smartphone. In most cases, to send text messages, transfer files or use the phone as a proxy to connect to the Internet. The analysis, digging deeper, then identified 410 that offered no protection, or at least a very weak degree of security, which would not have prevented attackers from exploiting this opening to enter the device with ease. The researchers then "isolated" 57 of them - for a more in-depth manual analysis - and discovered that the ports were left completely open and, therefore, exploitable by any hacker on the same local Wi-Fi network as the unfortunate user, by another application installed on the same device - even with limited privileges - or, an even more disturbing situation, by a script that the victim encounters while visiting a website. And at least one of these apps has been downloaded so many times that there are potentially millions of vulnerable Android devices out there.

A problem to be solved 

Researchers have, moreover, stated that these newly discovered "exploits" can lead to a large number of serious security and privacy violations such as, for example, remotely stealing sensitive data such as contacts, photos and even security credentials and performing extremely dangerous actions, such as executing malicious code and installing malware, again remotely. The most serious problem concerns applications that are used to transfer files between smartphones and computers via WiFi. And applications of this kind have been downloaded between 10 and 50 million times. When the team of researchers from the University of Michigan decided to scan the network to assess how many devices had this vulnerability, within just two minutes, they discovered a large number of smartphones using these apps.

Deleting vulnerable apps

Google has not yet commented on the situation. The only way to solve this problem, so far, would be to uninstall these apps like, for example, Wifi File Transfer. Although it is not the only app incriminaao. And it is also an operation that should be done as fast as possible to avoid further problems.