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Secret Back Doors in Android

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Just talk

I am everything but a Google basher and I spent a lot of my life descending deep into research of Google foes, Google smear campaigns, lawsuits by proxy, and antitrust actions by proxy. I also advocate Android, but in recent years I have been increasingly concerned about the direction it is taking. I wish to share my latest concern. It relates to what the media characterises as "anti-theft" but is actually a facility to kill phones in a protest or convert them into hostile listening devices. Technology impacts human rights and those who control technology can be tempted to control humans.

Google habitually updates my tablet. It is a Nexus 7 tablet which Google invites itself to update remotely (shame on me for not installing Replicant, but this device does not support it yet). It is not a 3G tablet and it does not have two operation systems (unlike mobile phones) or even a carrier tracking its location all the time. It's a purely Android device with no network tying. It is network-agnostic. I only bought it because in order to replace my PDA (for over a decade) I wanted a device that is not a tracking device. Phones were out of the question.

Networks don't track the tablet. Google, however, is always out there, fully able to identify the connected user (latched onto a Gmail address because of Play), modifying the software without even the user's consent (the user is sometimes prompted to boot, without being able to opt out of the core update itself).

The update in itself is not a problem. What's problematic is its effect.

Following the latest Google update (which I was given no option to reject) I noticed that Google had added a remote kill switch as an opition. It was enabed by default. "Allow remote lock and erase" is what Google calls it and it is essentially working like a back door. Google and its partners in government are gaining a lot of power not over a smartphone but over a tablet.

The significance of this is that not only phones should be assumed to be remotely accessible for modification, including for example additional back doors. What's more, some devices that were sold without this functionality silently have it added. According to the corporate press, the FBI remotely turns Android devices into listening devices and it is getting simpler to see how.

NSA and PRISM destroy our computing. We definitely need to demand Free software, but we should go further by asking for audits, rejecting user-hostile 'features' like DRM, 'secure' boot, and kill switches. I gradually lose any remaining trust that I had in Google and even Free software such as Android.

More in Tux Machines

Meltdown and Spectre Linux Kernel Status - Update

I keep getting a lot of private emails about my previous post previous post about the latest status of the Linux kernel patches to resolve both the Meltdown and Spectre issues. These questions all seem to break down into two different categories, “What is the state of the Spectre kernel patches?”, and “Is my machine vunlerable?” Read more

today's leftovers

OSS: Jio, VMware Openwashing, and Testing Jobs

  • Jio is committed to use open source technology: Akash Ambani
    Speaking at the India Digital Open Summit 2018, Akash Ambani, Director of Reliance Jio Infocomm, said that open source is very important for his company. “The year 2017 was the tipping point for AR and VR globally. In India, AR and VR are in the initial stages of adoption but at Jio, we believe it will grow at a 50 percent compounded rate for the next five years,” Akash said. He also spoke on the evolution of artificial intelligence and blockchain.
  • VMware and Pivotal’s PKS Distribution Marries Kubernetes with BOSH [Ed: It looks like the author has been reduced to Microsoft propaganda and other openwashing puff pieces sponsored by proprietary software giants. We have given up on several writers who used to support GNU/Linux. Seeing their activity, it seems as though they ended up with neither gigs nor credibility (used to get far more writing assignments from LF, often for Microsoft openwashing).]
  • Hehe, still writing code for a living? It's 2018. You could be earning x3 as a bug bounty hunter
    Ethical hacking to find security flaws appears to pay better, albeit less regularly, than general software engineering. And while payment remains one of the top rationales for breaking code, hackers have begun citing more civic-minded reasons for their activities. A survey of 1,700 bug bounty hunters from more than 195 countries and territories by security biz HackerOne, augmented by the company's data on 900 bug bounty programs, has found that white-hat hackers earn a median salary that's 2.7 times that of typical software engineers in their home countries. In some places, the gap is far more pronounced. In India, for example, hackers make as much as 16 times the median programmer salary. In the US, they earn 2.4 times the median.

Security: Spectre and Meltdown, Industrial System Sabotage, VDP, Windows in Healthcare

  • Some thoughts on Spectre and Meltdown
     

    Contrast that with what happened this time around. Google discovered a problem and reported it to Intel, AMD, and ARM on June 1st. Did they then go around contacting all of the operating systems which would need to work on fixes for this? Not even close. FreeBSD was notified the week before Christmas, over six months after the vulnerabilities were discovered. Now, FreeBSD can occasionally respond very quickly to security vulnerabilities, even when they arise at inconvenient times — on November 30th 2009 a vulnerability was reported at 22:12 UTC, and on December 1st I provided a patch at 01:20 UTC, barely over 3 hours later — but that was an extremely simple bug which needed only a few lines of code to fix; the Spectre and Meltdown issues are orders of magnitude more complex.  

  • Menacing Malware Shows the Dangers of Industrial System Sabotage
     

    At the S4 security conference on Thursday, researchers from the industrial control company Schneider Electric, whose equipment Triton targeted, presented deep analysis of the malware—only the third recorded cyberattack against industrial equipment. Hackers [sic] were initially able to introduce malware into the plant because of flaws in its security procedures that allowed access to some of its stations, as well as its safety control network.

  • 25 per cent of hackers don't report bugs due to lack of disclosure policies
     

    One of the standout discoveries was that almost 25 per cent of respondents said they were unable to disclose a security flaw because the bug-ridden company in question lacked a vulnerability disclosure policy (VDP).

  • 'Professional' hack [sic] on Norwegian health authority compromises data of three million patients [iophk: "Windows TCO"]