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Google Wallet hacked onto Verizon phones

Telco exiled tap-to-pay Android app from Galaxy Nexus mobes

Website security in corporate America

Verizon's controversial decision to ask Google for Wallet-less builds of the Galaxy Nexus might be moot, as hackers have discovered that the functionality is there none the less.

Hackers have managed to gain access to the Google Wallet functionality lurking within the Verizon spin of the Galaxy Nexus, allowing the telco's customers to buy a Big Mac with a tap of the phone, despite the operator's objections.

The Samsung-made Galaxy Nexus phone is Google's flagship Android handset, and supports Near-Field Communications (NFC) for wireless payments as well as other proximity applications. But not the Verizon variant, which comes without Google Wallet at the request of the operator but, it now seems, the Wallet is still there and can even be accessed without having to root the phone, though users report varying degrees of success.

Google Wallet uses the secure element embedded in the phone (and under the control of the Chocolate Factory) to authorise bonk-banking using NFC. Verizon is a member of ISIS - the US-operator consortium that promotes use of the SIM-embedded secure element (under the control of the network operators), so has a genuine interest in preventing Google Wallet being used by its customers.

ISIS has only just decided who'll be running the backend for its service, but still reckons it will be handling two thirds of American payments by the time it's up and running, assuming Google Wallet doesn't monopolise the market first.

US pressure group Free Press has complained the FCC (a US regulator) that Verizon is "abusing its power to act as a gatekeeper and blocking applications developed by competitors". The operator, however, claims the decision is based on the interests of its customers, who lack confidence in the security of Google Wallet - presumably they're waiting for an operator-backed service like ISIS.

But now anyone less concerned about security can have a go at installing Google Wallet, even on a Verizon handset, as the blocks put in place at the operator's request seem to be perfunctory at best.

One can't help being reminded of Verizon's attempts to switch off Bluetooth functionality, back in 2005. That was justified on similar grounds, but widely believed to be motivated by fear that users exchanging content would dent the operator's picture-messaging revenue.

That was clearly silly, but control over the customers' wallet is another thing entirely. Once ceded to Google it's quite unlikely that the operator will be able to get it back and one can understand why a telco would go to some lengths to prevent happening.

Though, just to reiterate, Verizon's acting for the good of its customers, rather than protecting its future revenue streams, even if that happens to be in the best interest of its shareholders. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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