In the world of Android smartphones, ‘stagefright‘ has zero relationship with live drama on the stage. Stagefright exploit is a real danger for Android phones. It has the potential to hack into all Android phones. In theory that is.
Stagefright is the name given to a series of codes used by the Android OS to parse video and other media files. So Stagefright is actually a normal code found in all Android phones. The term stagefright exploit gained currency last year when security researchers at Zimperium zLabs discovered that Android phones can be secretly hacked or infected by malware through downloaded video or audio files. Any Hacker with the knowledge of how the Stagefright works can potentially gain access to almost a billion android devices in use right now.
When the exploit was first detected, it was reported to Google. And to be fair to Google, it acted very quickly. It developed a patch to fix the exploit and pushed out the patch to all makers of Android devices. However, getting the fix would depend on whether the manufacturer of your android device decides to push it out to you.
You would think that is the end of the stagefright exploit crisis. But according to a recent report, the crisis is not yet over for some Android phones. Like a microscopic living organism, there is a new strain of the stagefright exploit. And like the first one it can infect your phone through video and audio downloads. The new stagefright exploit was discovered by researchers at Northbit. And according to them this new version, nicknamed Metaphor, is more effective than the previous one. While the first one was too scattered to successfully hack Android devices, this one could very reliably compromise an android device.
How does the stagefright exploit work? Reading it sounds complicated and laborious; but the real process in real time is almost automatic and can happen in less than 20 seconds. When you visit a website with maliciously designed MPEG-4 video, your device’s Android media server becomes vulnerable. First of all, the malware sends information about your device back to the hackers; next, another video file is sent to the device to collect more security data from the phone. This gets send back to the attackers. Finally, one last video file is is delivered to the device. With the data already collected, the last video file containing the malware now infects the phone completely.
The attackers now have complete control of your Android smartphone. All this happens within 20 seconds.
For now, there is a big caveat for Metaphor. The new stagefright exploit hasn’t yet being seen outside the Northbit lab. Unless some researcher in Northbit decides, for whatever reason, to unleash the hack into the wider world. Sounds like stuff from movies right? Also, Android phones running on Lollipop and Marshmallow are not vulnerable to the threat. These OS already contain security patches designed to combat the danger of the stagefright exploit. Devices that installed the initial security patch released by Google last year are also insured again Stagefright exploit.
So the sensible thing is not to dump your Android device in a hurry. If you installed the patch last year, you are safe. And if you use the Lollipop or Marshmallow operating systems, you are automatically covered too. Android Kitkat and earlier versions should be the ones to be really worried about the stagefright exploit. Especially if they did not get a security update related to the stagefright exploit.
The advice to those at risk is to see if they can download the patch from their manufacturers website. If that is not possible, I guess it won’t be a bad idea to upgrade the phone to at least the Lollipop OS. Or buy a new smartphone with the latest Android OS.
photo credits: wired.co.uk; techshout.com