Google is implementing a server-side fix to address the authentication flaw that allows third-parties to access Android user data on Google Calendar, Contacts and Picasa.
Google is planning to fix a security issue that could
potentially allow hackers and cyber-crooks to access the personal information
of people who use the company's Android mobile operating system. Google plans
to push out the fix within the next week.
Researchers at Germany's University of Ulm
the vulnerability and published their findings on May 13. The flaw only impacts
Android applications that authenticate with Google services, such as Calendar
and Contacts. If the user opens a WiFi network and tries to access those
services, a hacker could potentially intercept the authentication token and use
it to log in to the user account for up to two weeks.
"Today we're starting to roll out a fix which addresses
a potential security flaw that could, under certain circumstances, allow a
third-party access to data available in Calendar and Contacts," a Google
spokesman told eWEEK on May 18.
Since the problem does not exist in Android 2.3.4 or 3.0-the
"Honeycomb" version specifically designed for tablets-security experts
recommended that users upgrade their phones to the latest version.
Android users are unable to upgrade their smartphones without
their device. In addition, wireless carriers have been notoriously slow
the Android operating system updates. Verizon Wireless customers, for
Android phones are still on 2.2.2, for example.
However, Google will implement its own fix instead of
waiting for the carriers to roll out the operating system updates to Android
"This fix requires no action from users and will roll
out globally over the next few days," the Google spokesperson said.
The patch doesn't require a software update on the Android
device themselves, as Google will be implementing a server-side patch to
address the issue, according to Graham
, a senior technology consultant at Sophos. The "silent fix" will be
automatic and worldwide, affecting all versions of the Android OS, Cluley said.
Based on Google's own statistics, 99.7 percent of Android
phones currently in use are running Android versions 2.3.3 or older and are vulnerable
to this kind of man-in-the-middle impersonation attack.
The work will be complete and all devices secured from this
vulnerability within the week, when the servers begin forcing Android phones to
use an encrypted HTTPS connection when syncing data. Picasa's sync software
with the Gallery app still uses the unencrypted HTTP connection. A fix for
Picasa is still under investigation, Cluley noted.
Even with the fix in place, Android users should consider
avoiding public WiFi networks, security experts said. Smartphone users are also vulnerable to
another type of man-in-the-middle attack called "session ID stealing" where
attackers intercept an active session ID over the open wireless connection, Mike
Paquette, chief strategy officer of TopLayer Networks, told eWEEK.
For this attack to succeed, the Android user would have to
be in the same physical location as the miscreant and connected to the same
wireless network, it was likely that attackers would target areas with large
numbers of users of public WiFi, Paquette said.
While this problem is being fixed relatively quickly, Cluley
was concerned how easy it would be to fix a serious vulnerability on the
Android devices in the future since Google depends on manufacturers and
carriers to push out operating system updates.