Google Pixel: Pros

The bug allowed hackers to control the Camera app in Google Pixel phones and Samsung smartphones such that they could listen to all of users' conversations and even manipulate the camera remotely by installing an infected app. What is scary is that the security researchers found out that an infected app could force the camera apps in Pixel and Samsung smartphones to take photos and record video even if the infected phone was locked or the screen of the phone was turned off or when a user was is in the middle of a voice call.

Android camera apps could be hijacked to spy on users

The good news is that the security firm informed Google about the security vulnerability back in July this year following which Google released a patch to fix the bug. It has made it easy for criminals to stalk, monitor and harasses victims through computers or other devices like cell phones.

The software is a computer program that enables a person to gather information about a person secretly. A Spy program Google Pixel 2 can be installed without the spy having physical access to the target computer. This may be done by the attacker sending the software as an attached file which after opening automatically installs itself. This software is very difficult to detect and if detected, difficult to uninstall. Others can be able to turn on the webcam enabling the spy to see the surrounding of the user.

To detect the presence of this software, run anti-spyware programs more often.

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Having a Google Pixel 2 XL and Pixel 3 on-hand, our team began researching the Google Camera app [1], ultimately finding multiple concerning vulnerabilities stemming from permission bypass issues. After further digging, we also found that these same vulnerabilities impact the camera apps of other smartphone vendors in the Android ecosystem — namely Samsung — presenting significant implications to hundreds-of-millions of smartphone users.

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This blog is also accompanied by a proof-of-concept PoC video, as well as a technical report of the findings that were shared with Google, Samsung, and other Android-based smartphone OEMs. Additionally, we found that certain attack scenarios enable malicious actors to circumvent various storage permission policies, giving them access to stored videos and photos, as well as GPS metadata embedded in photos, to locate the user by taking a photo or video and parsing the proper EXIF data [3].

In doing so, our researchers determined a way to enable a rogue application to force the camera apps to take photos and record video, even if the phone is locked or the screen is turned off. Our researchers could do the same even when a user was is in the middle of a voice call.

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The ability for an application to retrieve input from the camera, microphone, and GPS location is considered highly invasive by Google themselves. As a result, AOSP created a specific set of permissions that an application must request from the user.

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Since this was the case, Checkmarx researchers designed an attack scenario that circumvents this permission policy by abusing the Google Camera app itself, forcing it to do the work on behalf of the attacker. It is known that Android camera applications usually store their photos and videos on the SD card. Since photos and videos are sensitive user information, in order for an application to access them, it needs special permissions: storage permissions. Unfortunately, storage permissions are very broad and these permissions give access to the entire SD card.

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There are a large number of applications, with legitimate use-cases, that request access to this storage, yet have no special interest in photos or videos. Additionally, if the location is enabled in the camera app, the rogue application also has a way to access the current GPS position of the phone and user. Of course, a video also contains sound. It was interesting to prove that a video could be initiated during a voice call. The malicious app we designed for the demonstration was nothing more than a mockup weather app that could have been malicious by design.

Even closing the app does not terminate the persistent connection. A video of successfully exploiting the vulnerabilities was taken by our research team and can be viewed here. When the vulnerabilities were first discovered, our research team ensured that they could reproduce the process of easily exploiting them.