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May 19, 2011

Google Android Smartphones are Vulnerable to Attack

German researchers have made a startling discovery. A large number of Google Android smartphones are vulnerable to attack from uninvited perpetrators, who can access your contacts, calendar and private photos, according to three researchers from Ulm University in southern Germany.

The finding follows the recent press around Apple and Google collecting user data. While such revelations are becoming commonplace in today’s new world of always on, always connected smartphones, the seriousness of what the researchers found is not to be underestimated.
By accessing your contacts and calendar, raiders could naturally steal such information, but they could also use such information to figure out when you might be home, for example. They could also alter stored email addresses without you even noticing, and intercept communication.
In a blog post, the researchers said that they set out to see if it’s possible to launch an impersonation attack against Google services. “The short answer is: Yes, it is possible, and it is quite easy to do so,” they wrote.
The problem, they said, comes when the smartphones connect to an unsecured wireless network—think hotspots in caf├ęs or airports. If cybercriminals are monitoring that network, they could capture the authentication needed to access such information, the researchers said.
The researchers tested several versions of Android and found that those using Android versions older than Android version 2.3.4, nickname Gingerbread, which Google launched this month, are fully vulnerable. 
By Google’s estimates of devices that accessed the Android Market during the two weeks ended on May 2 of this year, 99.7% of those Android devices ran versions older than Gingerbread. The problem persists only for the company’s Picasa web-based photo albums service in new versions of Android, something which Google is currently fixing.
Google today said it had fixed part of the problem. “Today we’re starting to roll out a fix which addresses a potential security flaw that could, under certain circumstances, allow a third party access to data available in calendar and contacts. This fix requires no action from users and will roll out globally over the next few days,” a Google spokesman said.
For Android users, the researchers from Ulm offer a few helpful suggestions. The first is quite simple: Avoid connecting to unsecured wireless networks. The second suggestion, which is to upgrade your version of Android, may prove a challenge for now, as such an update may not yet be available on your particular handset. 
Earlier this month, Google said it would work more closely with companies such as Verizon, HTC, Samsung, Sprint and LG among others to adopt guidelines for how quickly devices are updated after a new Android release.

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