Security Flaw Revealed in Google 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 A. Miller, notified Google of the flaw this 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.

He said the flaw could be exploited by an attacker who might trick a G1 user into visiting a booby-trapped Web site.

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, 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.

According to Miller, the risk 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.

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.

Source: The NY Times

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