‘Serious’ Palm Pre and Android security flaws found

Palm Pre

Some serious security vulnerabilities have been found in Palm Pre devices and Google's Android OS, potentially affecting millions of users, a security company has warned.

A fault in the Palm Pre could allow hackers to gain complete control over the phone's operating system from anywhere in the world, MWR InfoSecurity has claimed.

The hole is opened through the receipt of a specially designed message, allowing attackers to upload a back door and then force the phone to send and record both audio and stored data, MWR said.

The Android vulnerability, a fix for which has been included in the Android 2.2 update, could let hackers gain access to username and password data.

However, MWR confirmed to IT PRO it is not just Android affected by this flaw, as the vulnerability resides in a version of WebKit, which is used to power various mobile web browsers.

Alex Fidgen, director at MWR, said both Google and Palm had been contacted about the holes prior to the security firm going public.

He told IT PRO Google had now fixed the flaw, but claimed Palm had not.

MWR felt it had given enough time to let the companies issue fixes before reporting on the vulnerabilities, Fidgen added.

"In our opinion, smartphones can broadly be considered to be insecure," he said. "There is just too much evidence that security isn't being incorporated by the mobile phone companies into their software."

"We don't think mobile phone companies are really ready to deal with security issues."

Palm did not say whether it was contacted by MWR, as Fidgen had suggested.

The manufacturer had this to say in response to the findings: "Palm takes security very seriously. While we do not comment on specific security enquiries, we do thoroughly investigate any potential security risks brought to our attention."

"We have procedures in place for security researchers to responsibly report risks and we partner with them to make sure any vulnerabilities are addressed and pushed to webOS users via our over the air update system," a Palm statement read.

A Google spokesperson, meanwhile, said the bug is not exclusive to Android as MWR confirmed, and can only be triggered if users go on a malicious website or access a malicious Wi-Fi network on their phone.

"We are not aware of any users having been affected by this bug to date," the spokesperson added.

Fidgen claimed MWR has found other security holes in mobile devices and is currently in contact with vendors about the vulnerabilities.

The firm will disclose more details in the coming months, he added.

Tom Brewster

Tom Brewster is currently an associate editor at Forbes and an award-winning journalist who covers cyber security, surveillance, and privacy. Starting his career at ITPro as a staff writer and working up to a senior staff writer role, Tom has been covering the tech industry for more than ten years and is considered one of the leading journalists in his specialism.

He is a proud alum of the University of Sheffield where he secured an undergraduate degree in English Literature before undertaking a certification from General Assembly in web development.