The Register reports security researchers at FireEye have discovered a critical security flaw in a mobile ad library that is used by a number of popular Android apps. Due to the severity of the bug, the researchers didn't disclose exact details but they mention that altogether 200 million affected apps have been downloaded by Android users.
Mobile ad libraries are third-party software included by host apps in order to display ads. Because this library could potentially be used to conduct large-scale attacks on millions of users, FireEye refers to it anonymously by the code name “Vulna” rather than revealing its true identity.
FireEye catalogues a variety of built-in aggressive behaviours which, in addition to vulnerabilities with the technology, make Vulna a threat.
Though it is widely known that ad libraries present privacy risks such as collecting device identifiers (IMEI, IMSI, etc.) and location information, Vulna presents far more severe security issues. First, Vulna is aggressive - if instructed by its server, it will collect sensitive information such as text messages, phone call history, and contacts. It also performs dangerous operations such as executing dynamically downloaded code.
Second, Vulna contains a number of diverse vulnerabilities. These vulnerabilities, when exploited, allow an attacker to utilize Vulna’s risky and aggressive functionality to conduct malicious activity, such as turning on the camera and taking pictures without the user’s knowledge, stealing two-factor authentication tokens sent via SMS, or turning the device into part of a botnet.
In related news, Google chairman Eric Schmidt is in the news today as he blased Apple's iOS by claiming that Android is more secure than Apple's iPhone lineup. Schmidt doesn't specify why he believes that Android is better, but points to its "real world" rigorous security testing.
“If you polled many people in this audience they would say Google Android is not their principal platform… When you say Android, people say, wait a minute, Android is not secure,” Gartner analyst David Willis asked of Schmidt.
“Not secure?” Schmidt responded. “It’s more secure than the iPhone.”
“Android is very secure,” he continued. “You will be happier with Gmail, Chrome and Android more than you can possibly imagine.”