The security of the Android platform is based on its sandbox and permission protection mechanism, which isolates each app and restricts how processes can communicate with each other. However, because it is designed to be open to include other open source projects like Linux and OpenSSL, it can inherit many features as well as vulnerabilities.
This means that the protection of the sandbox cannot cover every aspect of the system, and threats to Android still remain. Open ports are one potential source of vulnerabilities, and we recently found a new vulnerability in the app of a Chinese deals site, Meituan, that highlighted this problem.
Earlier this year, Heartbleed was a notable example; apps with their own vulnerable OpenSSL library to create TLS/SSL connections are at risk of leaking local memory information. Similarly, any vulnerability in an app or external module may affect the security of the entire system.
Linux is also a potential source of vulnerabilities. Because Android is based on the Linux kernel and still uses many native Linux APIs, Linux vulnerabilities may affect Android as well. For example, CVE-2014-3153 was used by root exploit tools like TowelRoot. Another example was CVE-2014-0196.
Network protocol implementations in Linux are also facing security challenges. Vulnerabilities seen this year in the Linux TCP/IP stack included CVE-2014-0100. CVE-2014-2523 also affected Android as well. These vulnerabilities, if exploited, put users at risk, as an attacker would be able to exploit their machine remotely.
Android systems that insecurely use these network protocols may also have vulnerabilities. CVE-2011-3918 was a vulnerability in the zygote process, which allowed an attacker to launch a local denial of service via a malicious app. The cause was the developer used the socket protocol without setting the right permissions. Similar vulnerabilities include CVE-2011-1823, CVE-2013-4777, CVE-2013-5933. Developers need to be aware of of the security risks when using these protocols, as there can be serious consequences resulting from their mistakes.
User installed apps may increase this risk as well. Look at the following screenshot:
Figure 1. Apps with open ports
The screenshot shows how many apps listen on an open TCP port, which means the device is exposed online without the benefit of a firewall. What if an app was built by a developer who wasn’t aware of the security issues? Even well-known software applications have their share of network-related vulnerabilities. As it stands, it would be better to have a firewall of some kind to protect Android users, but that is not part of the mobile OS today.
These kind of vulnerabilities do exist on Android. We found a vulnerability in the Android app of Meituan, a Chinese site similar to Groupon. It affects versions of the Meituan app below 4.6.0. Vulnerable versions of this app listen on TCP port 9517, which allows the app to receive messages from a server. However, because it does not authenticate the sender, any machine on the Internet can trigger a command on the phone.
The code snippet responsible for the vulnerability is below:
Figure 2. Vulnerable app code
It parses the received TCP data in a certain format and then sends android.intent.action.VIEW with the “intent” in the received data. Using this vulnerability, an attacker can send large numbers of messages using your phone to a fraudulent number, or open phishing websites.
If your Android version is older than 4.0.4, the USSD vulnerability may also be triggered by this problem. This means that your phone may even be remotely wiped by an attacker!
We are looking forward to enhancements to Android security like SELinux, Storage Access Framework, and Device Administration. However, there are still many unprotected parts of the Android system. These network vulnerabilities will be a significant problem moving forward.
We disclosed this vulnerability to Meituan on June 3 of this year, and the vendor confirmed it to us on the same day. A fix was issued to users two days later on June 5, with version 4.6.1 of the app. Trend Micro and Meituan worked together on the solution, and we mutually agreed to disclose details of this vulnerability at this time.