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Millions of Android phones may be vulnerable to camera spying vulnerability

Millions of Android phones may be vulnerable to camera spying vulnerability

Security researchers have uncovered a vulnerability in Android smartphones that could allow an attacker to secretly take photos and record videos without any permissions being granted.

And the exploit works even if the phone is locked or the screen turned off, or even during an actual call – all without the knowledge of the user,

The researchers at Checkmarx discovered a way to circumvent the permission policy which normally provides a layer of protection for Android users from apps doing more than they should.

One of the scary aspects of this is that if a remote attacker managed to use the exploit to steal photos from your Android phone they could then examine the EXIF metadata embedded within the photos to locate your physical location.

As the researchers explained, central to the exploit was a vulnerability found in the camera apps pre-installed on millions of Android devices, known as CVE-2019-2234.

As a proof of concept demonstration, the researchers created a malicious weather app which did not request any special permissions beyond the basic storage access, and thus would be unlikely to appear suspicious or threatening to even the most cautious users.

When the app is run it creates a persistent connection back to a remote command-and-control (C&C) server, from where an attacker can send it instructions. According to the researchers, even closing the app does not terminate the connection.

But with their rogue app in place, the researchers were able to:

  • Take a photo on the victim’s phone and upload (retrieve) it to the C&C server
  • Record a video on the victim’s phone and upload (retrieve) it to the C&C server
  • Parse all of the latest photos for GPS tags and locate the phone on a global map
  • Operate in stealth mode whereby the phone is silenced while taking photos and recording videos
  • Wait for a voice call and automatically record video from the victim’s side, and audio from both sides of the conversation.

A video published by the research team demonstrates them successfully exploiting the security hole on Google Pixel 2 XL and Pixel 3 devices.

The researchers responsibly disclosed details of the vulnerabilities to Google, and details of the high severity flaw were not made public until both Google and Samsung had released fixes earlier this year.

However, it seems very likely that there are still Android phones out there which remain unpatched, and do not have the latest security updates installed.

About the author

Graham CLULEY

Graham Cluley is an award-winning security blogger, researcher and public speaker. He has been working in the computer security industry since the early 1990s, having been employed by companies such as Sophos, McAfee and Dr Solomon's. He has given talks about computer security for some of the world's largest companies, worked with law enforcement agencies on investigations into hacking groups, and regularly appears on TV and radio explaining computer security threats.

Graham Cluley was inducted into the InfoSecurity Europe Hall of Fame in 2011, and was given an honorary mention in the "10 Greatest Britons in IT History" for his contribution as a leading authority in internet security.

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