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RIM tells users of bloodied BlackBerry to disable JavaScript

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Research in Motion has suggested BlackBerry users disable JavaScript to protect themselves against a critical vulnerability that allows attackers to remotely execute malicious code and access confidential data stored on the phone.

Monday's unusual recommendation came four days after contestants in an annual hacking competition exposed a serious security vulnerability in a fully patched BlackBerry Torch 9800. By exploiting a bug in the phone's web browser, they were able to write a file to its storage system and steal a complete list of contacts and a cache of pictures stored on the device.

“Users of BlackBerry Device Software version 6.0 and later can disable the use of JavaScript in the BlackBerry Browser to prevent exploitation of the vulnerability,” RIM said in the advisory. “The issue is not in JavaScript but the use of JavaScript is necessary to exploit the vulnerability.”

RIM warned that disabling JavaScript may result in a “diminished browsing experience.” Exploits don't allow access to email and other personal information on the BlackBerry file system, RIM said.

Unlike Apple's iPhone and Microsoft's Windows 7 Mobile, the BlackBerry doesn't come with ASLR, or address space layout randomization, which makes it hard for attackers to predict the memory locations of their malicious payloads, according to the hacking contestants, who claimed $15,000 in prize money for their exploit. The RIM smartphones also lack another protection known as data execution prevention and offer only a rudimentary security sandbox to isolate apps from more sensitive parts of the OS, they said.

RIM frequently markets the BlackBerry as a safer smartphone alternative that makes them more suitable for corporate networks, where security is at a premium.

The integer overflow that felled the BlackBerry was found in Webkit, the same browser rendering engine used in both the iPhone and smartphones that run on Google's Android operating system.

Members of RIM's security team are “investigating the issue to determine the best resolution for protecting” users. Affected models include the Torch 9800, Bold 9700, Bold 9650, Curve 9300, and Pearl 9100. ®

Mobile application security vulnerability report

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