Sun, Oct 26, 2008 - Page 11 News List

Security flaw uncovered in T-Mobile’s G1 phone


Just days after the T-Mobile G1 smartphone went on the market, a group of security researchers have found what they call a serious flaw in the Android software from Google that runs it.

One of the researchers, Charles Miller, notified Google of the flaw last week and said he was publicizing it now because he believed that cellphone users were not generally aware that increasingly sophisticated smartphones faced the same threats that plague Internet-connected personal computers.

Miller, a former National Security Agency computer security specialist, said the flaw could be exploited by an attacker who might trick a G1 user into visiting a booby-trapped Web site.

The G1 went on sale at T-Mobile stores on Wednesday.

Google executives acknowledged the issue but said that the security features of the phone would limit the extent of damage that could be done by an intruder, compared with today’s PCs and other cellphones.

Unlike modern personal computers and other advanced smartphones like the iPhone, the Google phone creates a series of software compartments that limit the access of an intruder to a single application.

“We wanted to sandbox every single application because you can’t trust any of them,” said Rich Cannings, a Google security engineer.

He said that the company had already fixed an open-source version of the software and was working with its partners, T-Mobile and HTC (宏達電), to offer fixes for its current customers.

Typically, today’s computer operating systems try to limit access by creating a partition between a single user’s control of the machine and complete access to programs and data, which is referred to as superuser, root or administrative access.

The risk in the Google design, said Miller, who is a principal security analyst at Independent Security Evaluators in Baltimore, lies in the danger from within the Web browser partition in the phone. It would be possible, for example, for an intruder to install software that would capture keystrokes entered by the user when surfing to other Web sites. That would make it possible to steal identity information or passwords.

Miller has previously gained attention for finding other vulnerabilities. In March, he received US$10,000 and a Macintosh Air laptop in a contest at the CanSecWest security conference by reading the contents of a file stored on a Mac laptop by directing the machine to a Web site that was able to exploit a vulnerability in Apple’s Safari browser.

Google executives said they believed that Miller had violated an unwritten code between companies and researchers that is intended to give companies time to fix problems before they are publicized.

Miller said he was withholding technical details, but said he felt that consumers had a right to know that products had shortcomings.

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