Samsung and LG users’ privacy may be compromised due to Qualcomms’ flaws

If your current cell phone uses a Qualcomm chipset, then your privacy may be compromised. Recently, some vulnerabilities have been found in the Qualcomm chipset, making some of the world’s most popular smartphones a target for cyber attacks.

Reportedly, the hardware is found to have some vulnerabilities that potentially allow an attacker to steal data from smartphones. The news is pretty serious, provided the facts that the chipset powers most of the known brands such as Samsung, LG, and Motorola.

The Qualcomm’s chipset stores all the confidential data in a secure area known as Trusted Execution Environment or TEE. The TEE ensures the complete security of the code and other important data. Based on TrustZone technology from Arm, the Qualcomm Trusted Execution Environment or QTEE makes sure that the sensitive data stored is not tampered with.

The experts from Check Point found out some flaws with the secure are that it could result in protected data being leaked, device rooting, bootloader unlocking, and execution of undetectable APTs.

“TrustZone holds all your secrets—fingerprints, facial recognition, credit cards, passports, whatever secrets you can think of, these things are stored in TrustZone,” said the Check Point’s head of cyber research, Yaniv Balmas in an interview.

The Qualcomm’s Spokesperson responding to the Balmas statement said, “Providing technologies that support robust security and privacy is a priority for Qualcomm. The vulnerabilities publicized by Check Point have been patched, one in early October 2019 and the other in November 2014. We have seen no reports of active exploitation, though we encourage end users to update their devices with patches available from OEMs.”

The CEO of Blue Cedar, John Aisien elaborated the importance of the hardware by saying, “Because Android’s OS stores most of a device’s sensitive data (such as fingerprints, facial recognition, credit cards or passport info) on what its security hardware manufacturer, Qualcomm, calls the “TrustZone,” it’s seen as a high-value target for cybercriminals or state actors.”

“By hacking into an Android device OS, cybercriminals and state actors can gain further access to data stored on the device, including application data. Companies that use applications on such devices to transmit sensitive data like high-security locations, industrial plans, sovereign policies, personal health information, etc., could also have their data at risk if the information is encrypted only onto the device’s drive,” Aisien further added for a better explanation.

Basically, additional services are provided by the secure world via trustlets. Trustlets are trusted third party components that aid in providing additional services. They are loaded and executed by the TEE by the operating system in the secure part of the chipset. These trustlets work like highways to transport secure and confidential data to and from the normal world (this is where the Operating System of the device resides) and the TEE.

The Cybersecurity firm, during the testing, applied an automated testing technique called fuzzing on different devices- Samsung, LG, and Motorola. In the technique, the trustlet was executed in the normal world, and a modified version was loaded to communicate with the secret world, which in turn compromised the data.

Experts have pointed out that hackers can manipulate this flaw very easily by executing trusted apps in the normal world. They can then easily load another reengineered version of the trustlet into the secret world to extract sensitive data.

The newly found vulnerabilities are a cause of grave concern as more than half of the devices use Qualcomm chipsets. “This raises state and corporate security concerns, and reaches across sectors, including military and defense sectors, which are critical for geopolitical stability. Device-level security alone just isn’t enough, as this will continue to generate concerns in the coming years, especially as use of these devices to store and compute using sensitive data increases,” Aisien said while addressing the issues stemming out of the newfound flaws.

Aisien not only addressed the cause of concern but also suggested a viable course of action. “Companies should prioritize application-level security to defend against potentially devastating device-level vulnerabilities like this. If the enterprise’s applications within a compromised phone are protected, your data is far less exposed to risk than if you were only trusting the security that comes with the device.”

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