Firewall for phones

27 July 2017

Credit: Wright Studio/Shutterstock
Credit: Wright Studio/Shutterstock

Around 400 million users change their phone's components, leading to high security risks; this innovative firewall program adds a missing layer of smartphone security and monitors for malicious code.

After discovering a security vulnerability in the internal communications between Android smartphone components and a phone’s central processing unit (CPU), researchers alerted Android developer Google and helped the global company address the problem.

“Our technology doesn’t require device manufacturers to understand or modify any new code,” says research lead Dr Yorri Oren. “It’s a firewall that can be implemented as a tiny chip, or as an independent software module running on the CPU.”

Around 400 million people change their phone’s components (such as touchscreens, chargers, and battery or sensor assemblies) – and all of them are susceptible to significant security breaches and attacks.

These components, referred to as ‘field replaceable units’ (FRUs), communicate with the phone CPU over simple interfaces with no authentication mechanisms or error detection capabilities. A malicious vendor could add a compromised FRU to a phone, leaving it vulnerable to both password and financial theft, fraud, malicious photo or video distribution, and unauthorised app downloads.

“This problem is especially acute in the Android market with many manufacturers that operate independently,” the researchers say. “An attack of this type occurs outside the phone’s storage area; it can survive phone factory resets, remote wipes and firmware updates. Existing security solutions cannot prevent this specific security issue.”

Credit: Jangprayoon/Shutterstock
Credit: Jangprayoon/Shutterstock

Researcher Omer Shwartz adds, “There is no way for the phone itself to discover that it’s under this type of an attack. Our solution prevents a malicious or misconfigured FRU from compromising the code running on the CPU by checking all the incoming and outgoing communication.”

The research team, guided by Dr Asaf Shabtai, used machine learning algorithms to monitor the phones’ internal communications for anomalies that may indicate malicious code. Their software allowed them to identify and prevent hardware-generated data leaks and hacks.

The researchers are seeking to further test the patent-pending technology with phone manufacturers.

Credit: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev,

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