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Android adware capability a vulnerability, claim boffins

Ad push code can spoof SMSs

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North Carolina State University researchers have revealed a vulnerability in Android that allows SMS messages to be sent from one app to another without going over the air, something they say could be used for SMS phishing attacks.

The Xuxian Jiang-led team is the same group that gave the world the Android click-jacking rootkit, a phone-call bugging vulnerability, and identified a dozen malicious apps on Google Play in 2011.

The team's latest announcement is characterised as a “WRITE_SMS capability leak”, because it can be exploited without an attacker having to request any permissions. The vulnerability is demonstrated in the video below.

“This vulnerability allows a running app on an Android phone to fake arbitrary SMS text messages, which will then be received by phone users. We believe such a vulnerability can be readily exploited to launch various phishing attacks,” the group writes.

Symantec points out that the ability to use an app to generate what looks like an SMS has been known since 2010, but hadn’t been considered a vulnerability. It seems to be a classic case of “this is a feature, not a bug”: the vast majority of apps using the code, the A-V company says, “use the code to deliver advertisements”.

Symantec says there are currently 200 apps on Google Play, recording millions of combined downloads, that send ads to users as spoofed SMSs. ®

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