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Tuesday, 04 September 2018 06:26

Google will not patch flaw that can be used to track Android devices Featured

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Google will not patch flaw that can be used to track Android devices Pixabay

Google has refused to patch a vulnerability in older versions of Android that allows malicious attackers to track and locate smartphones, unless users upgrade to the latest version, or Android Pie.

The vulnerability was reported by security vendor Nightwatch Cybersecurity, who said it could be utilised to "uniquely identify and track any Android device" and also to "geolocate users".

Nightwatch said it had reported the flaw to Google back in March and that the company said it would only fix the issue in Android 9 or Pie. Older versions would not be patched, according to Nightwatch's advisory.

While users have been advised to upgrade to Android 9, that is not possible for anyone apart from those who use Google's own Pixel phones as every manufacturer customises Android and has to issue fixes and upgrades themselves.

Detailing the issue, Nightwatch said in its advisory: "System broadcasts by Android OS expose information about the user’s device to all applications running on the device. This includes the Wi-Fi network name, BSSID, local IP addresses, DNS server information and the MAC address.

"Some of this information (MAC address) is no longer available via APIs on Android 6 and higher, and extra permissions are normally required to access the rest of this information.

android leak no patch

"However, by listening to these broadcasts, any application on the device can capture this information thus bypassing any permission checks and existing mitigations."

The company said forks of Android, like FireOS which runs the Amazon Kindle, were also affected by the vulnerability.

"Because MAC addresses do not change and are tied to hardware, this can be used to uniquely identify and track any Android device even when MAC address randomisation is used," Nightwatch said.

"The network name and BSSID can be used to geolocate users via a lookup against a database of BSSID such as WiGLE or SkyHook. Other networking information can be used by rogue apps to further explore and attack the local WiFi network."

The company said the issue could be replicated on anyone's device by following these steps:

  • Install the “Internal Broadcasts Monitor” application developed by Vilius Kraujutis from Google Play.
  • Open the application and tap “Start” to monitor broadcasts.
  • Observe system broadcasts, specifically “android.net.wifi.STATE_CHANGE” and “android.net.wifi.p2p.THIS_DEVICE_CHANGED”.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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