BlackBerry Flaw Highlights Mobile Data Risks

By Matthew Hines  |  Posted 2008-07-17 Print this article Print

Mobile malware hasn't materialized to the extent that some experts were predicting it would several years ago, but that doesn't mean that threats won't emerge targeting popular handhelds.

That's why it's interesting to keep tabs on flaws discovered in mobile device infrastructure, such as the Enterprise Server PDF Processing Vulnerability acknowledged by Research In Motion yesterday.

For while mobile Web attacks or spyware type threats for handhelds have not emerged, one could imagine that something along those lines could prove pretty damaging from the angle of how much valuable data is being stored on the machines, and just as importantly, the servers that support them.

There's also the fallout from potential DoS attacks, for which the named vulnerability might already be exploited were it that such an attack existed, according to security researchers including Secunia who reported on the flaw -- which to RIM's credit, it initially announced on its own.

Ranked as "highly critical" by Secunia, the research firm said that the BlackBerry vulnerability could potentially by exploited by malware seeking to compromise an affected system. The vulnerability is caused due to an unspecified error in the BlackBerry Attachment Service when processing PDF files.

"This can be exploited to potentially execute arbitrary code on the vulnerable system via an e-mail containing a specially crafted PDF," Secunia said in its online advisory. "Successful exploitation requires that a BlackBerry smart phone user views the specially crafted PDF file."

The vulnerability affects versions 4.1 Service Pack 3 (4.1.3) through 4.1 Service Pack 5 (4.1.5) of BlackBerry Enterprise Server specifically, but other versions may also be affected, Secunia noted.

In its own advisory, RIM offered a series of workaround but also noted that even smart phone users should only open attachments from trusted sources.

As you can see, the user-oriented security measures we've come to adopt for our PCs have already crept their way onto the mobile scene.

For now the threat of attack seems relatively low, for even though the vulnerability affects the server software that supports BlackBerry, related attacks have not been seen in the wild.

But it's not hard to imagine that some enterprising malware types out there are observing these types of flaws as they get discovered, and attempting to build threats that can take advantage of them.

Only time will tell if they succeed.

Matt Hines has been following the IT industry for over a decade as a reporter and blogger, and has been specifically focused on the security space since 2003, including a previous stint writing for eWeek and contributing to the Security Watch blog. Hines is currently employed as marketing communications manager at Core Security Technologies, a Boston-based maker of security testing software. The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views of Core Security, and neither the company, nor its products and services will be actively discussed in the blog. Please send news, research or tips to |

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