Security flaw prompts android alert

Local | Stanley Lam 10 Aug 2016

At least 100,000 users of Android devices in Hong Kong may be affected by a serious security flaw that can give attackers access to all data and hardware, the Hong Kong Computer Emergency Response Team Coordination Centre said yesterday.

In a warning statement, HKCERT said that a vendor patch would soon be released by device manufacturers to fix "Quadrooter" flaws.

The center said Quadrooter is a set of multiple vulnerabilities that can be exploited by hackers using malicious apps to give complete access to all data and hardware.

The center's senior consultant, Leung Siu-cheong, estimated that up to 60 percent of Android users in Hong Kong could be affected.

Check Point, an international cyber security company, had raised the warning one day earlier.

The vulnerability affects devices built with Qualcomm chipsets, which may mean over 900 million smartphones and tablets worldwide are affected. A list of popular affected devices includes, but is not limited to: Google Nexus 5X, Nexus 6, Nexus 6P, HTC One, HTC M9, HTC 10, LG G4, LG G5, LG V10 Samsung Galaxy S7 and Samsung S7 Edge Sony Xperia Z Ultra.

Check Point has released an app on Google Play for users to check whether their devices are affected.

According to a 2014 report by Nielsen, a global information and measurement company, the smartphone penetration in Hong Kong was 87 percent, rated the highest in Asia. Android phones account for 68.4 percent of the market, according to Vpon, a big data analytics company. This means about four million Android users in Hong Kong.

Android users may have to be more careful not only because of Quadrooter but also because of ransomware, according to Symantec, an antivirus company.

Ransomware works by locking or encrypting data of infected computers or mobile devices in order to extort victims in return. The most common penetration technique is spreading links leading to malware installation through e-mail, social media or ads.

Symantec senior sales engineer Kurt Wang said devices affected by Quadrooter will not be infected with ransomware as long as users do not install malicious apps outside of Google Play.

According to the Symantec Internet Security Threat Report, the number of smartphones infected by ransomware grew to 558 in the first quarter of 2016, a 55 percent increase when compared with the last quarter of 2015. The extortion fees are also on the rise - from an average of HK$2,280 in 2015 to HK$5,636 this year.

Wang expects the number of infections to continue to rise and, perhaps, targeting other devices such as SmartTV.

"Ransomware is probably the most effective business model for hackers," Wang said.

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