The Free Press, Mankato, MN

April 11, 2014

Millions of Android phones, tablets vulnerable to Heartbleed bug

By Jordan Robertson
Bloomberg News

SAN FRANCISCO — Millions of smartphones and tablets running Google's Android operating system have the Heartbleed software bug, in a sign of how broadly the flaw extends beyond the Web and into consumer devices.

While Google said in a blog post on April 9 that all versions of Android are immune to the flaw, it added that the "limited exception" was one version dubbed 4.1.1, which was released in 2012.

Security researchers said that version of Android is still in use in millions of smartphones and tablets, including in popular models made by Samsung, HTC and other manufacturers. Google statistics show that 34 percent of Android devices use variations of the 4.1 software and the company has said more than 900 million Android devices have been activated worldwide.

The Heartbleed vulnerability was made public earlier this week and can expose people to hacking of their passwords and other sensitive information. While a fix was simultaneously made available and quickly implemented by the majority of Internet properties that were vulnerable to the bug, there is no easy solution for Android gadgets that carry the flaw, security experts said. Even though Google has provided a patch, the company said it is up to handset makers and wireless carriers to update the devices.

"One of the major issues with Android is the update cycle is really long," said Michael Shaulov, chief executive officer and co-founder of Lacoon Security, a cyber-security company focused on advanced mobile threats. "The device manufacturers and the carriers need to do something with the patch, and that's usually a really long process."

Christopher Katsaros, a spokesman for Mountain View, Calif.-based Google, confirmed there are millions of Android 4.1.1 devices. He pointed to an earlier statement by the company, in which it said it has "assessed the SSL vulnerability and applied patches to key Google services."

It's unclear whether other mobile devices are vulnerable. Apple Inc. and Microsoft Corp. didn't respond to messages for comment.

The Heartbleed bug, which was discovered by researchers from Google and a Finnish company called Codenomicon, affects OpenSSL, a type of open-source encryption used by as many as 66 percent of all active Internet sites. The bug, which lets hackers silently extract data from computers' memory, and a fix for it were announced simultaneously on April 7.

The reach of the vulnerability continues to widen as Cisco Systems Inc. and Juniper Networks Inc. said yesterday that some of their networking-gear products are affected and will be patched. The Canadian government has ordered websites operated by the federal government that use the vulnerable version of OpenSSL to be taken offline until they can be fixed.

The vast majority of large companies protected their systems immediately and the push is now on to make smaller companies do the same, said Robert Hansen, a specialist in Web application security and vice president of the advanced technologies group of WhiteHat Security Inc.

Hackers have been detected scanning the Internet looking for vulnerable servers, especially in traffic coming from China, though it's difficult to know how many have been successful, said Jaime Blasco, director of AlienVault Labs, part of AlienVault. Many attempts have hit dead ends, Blasco said.

More than 80 percent of people running Android 4.1.1 who have shared data with mobile security firm Lookout Inc. are affected, said Marc Rogers, principal security researcher at the San Francisco-based company. Users in Germany are nearly five times as likely as those in the U.S. to be affected, probably because there is a device that uses that version of Android that is popular there, Rogers wrote in an email.

Still, there are no signs that hackers are trying to attack Android devices through the vulnerability as it would be complicated to set up and the success rate would be low, Rogers said. Individual devices are less attractive to go after because they need to be targeted one by one, he said.

 "Given that the server attack affects such a larger number of devices and is so much easier to carry out, we don't expect to see any attacks against devices until after the server attacks have been completely exhausted," Rogers wrote in an email.