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Critical Android bugs can be exploited via MMS, 950M users affected

Researchers with Zimperium have identified multiple critical remote code execution vulnerabilities in Android's Stagefright code that can be exploited on 95 percent of devices – an estimated 950 million – by simply sending an MMS message.

Josh Drake, Zimperium zLabs vice president of platform research and exploitation, is credited in a Monday blog post with identifying the vulnerabilities, which affect Android and derivative devices after and including version 2.2. He will be providing full technical details next month at Black Hat USA 2015 in Las Vegas.

Drake told in a Monday email correspondence that 10 critical vulnerabilities were assigned seven unique CVE identifiers.

To exploit the vulnerabilities, all an attacker has to do is send an MMS message with a specially crafted media attached, Drake said. He explained that the victim may or may not see anything at all – such as the message or notification – because once successful the attacker can remove any signs of compromise. 

In half of the cases tested, victims had no idea they were attacked, Zuk Avraham, founder and CEO of Zimperium, told in a Monday email correspondence. In other tests, victims received an MMS that triggered the vulnerability when clicked, but afterwards the victim did not see anything strange, he added.

Drake said, “Once successful, the attacker is left with arbitrary code execution with slightly elevated privileges, notably the audio and camera. Using these privileges, an attacker can essentially spy on their victim by listening in on conversations or watching the device's surroundings.”

The affected software runs with “system” privileges on some devices, Drake added.

“On these devices, the attacker has almost full control of the device already,” Drake said. “Apart from these elevated privileges, remote arbitrary code execution allows sophisticated attackers to execute “privilege escalation” attacks, which would provide complete control of the device.”

In a statement emailed to on Monday, Chris Wysopal, CTO and CISO of Veracode, referred to the issue as “Heartbleed for mobile” – but despite the severity of the bugs, Drake and Avraham said that the vulnerabilities are difficult to exploit. 

The post said that Zimperium reported the bugs to Google and also submitted patches that were applied within 48 hours; however, it added that fixing the vulnerabilities will require over-the-air (OTA) firmware updates that typically take a while to reach Android users. Zimperium recommended that users reach out to their manufacturers and carriers for more information.

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