Vulnerability found in Samsung smartphone keyboard

Flaw affects keyboards on 600 million devices

A critical vulnerability is affecting 600 million Samsung devices including the company’s new flagship device, the S6.

The issue lies with an app called SwiftKey keyboard, a third party keyboard application that Samsung pre-installed on its S6, S6 Edge and S5. The app can not be disabled or uninstalled.

Researchers at mobile security company, NowSecure, have found the serious vulnerability, which allows attackers to remotely access functions such as GPS, camera and microphone.

According to NowSecure, cyber criminals exploiting the vulnerability are also able to secretly install malicious apps; eavesdrop on incoming and outgoing messages or voice calls; and access pictures and text messages on vulnerable devices.

NowSecure researcher, Ryan Welton, said the application runs from a privileged account on Samsung devices. Welton detailed in a blog post how the flaw can be exploited if an attacker can control or compromise the network that the device is connected to, such as a wireless hotspot or local network.

Welton wrote that the keyboard can be exploited even if it is not run as default on vulnerable devices.

The flaw was first disclosed at Black Hat London on Tuesday June 16. Welton said the firm alerted Samsung to the issue in November 2014 and that, at the end of March of 2015, Samsung reported a patch released to mobile carriers for Android 4.2 and newer, but requested an additional three months deferral for public disclosure. Google’s Android security team was alerted in December 2014.

“While Samsung began providing a patch to mobile network operators in early 2015, it is unknown if the carriers have provided the patch to the devices on their network,” Welton said.

The Federal Government's StaySmartOnline service issued an alert to Australians on June 19. It said Samsung had advised it would be rolling out a security policy update "in the coming days".

Samsung responded in a statement to the issue saying all ‘flagship’ models since the Galaxy S4 had the KNOX security platform installed, which could update the security policies automatically.

The security update is pushed to the user, who must then agree to receive it, the company said.

“To ensure your device receives the latest security updates, go to Settings > Lock Screen and Security > Other Security Settings > Security policy updates, and make sure the Automatic Updates option is activated.”

“At the same screen, the user may also click Check for updates to manually retrieve any new security policy updates.”

For devices that don’t have the security platform, Samsung said it was working on a firmware update that would be available when testing and approvals were completed.

StaySmartOnline recommends users do not connect their Samsung phone to any networks that may not be secured, including free wireless hotspots.

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags SecureNowcritical vulnerabilitysamsungsecuritymobile securitymalwarecyber threat

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.
Chris Player
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?