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Samsung responds to reports of a huge security vulnerability in its phones

Published Jan 10th, 2014 9:05AM EST
Samsung Knox Security Vulnerability Response

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Late last month, cybersecurity researchers at Israel’s Ben-Gurion University of the Negev released a report claiming to have discovered a serious security vulnerability in the Galaxy S4 and other devices that run Samsung’s Knox security software. The researchers said that this security hole could allow a malicious hacker to intercept data sent to and from Samsung phones like the Galaxy S4, including emails and other potentially sensitive data. Samsung said immediately that it was investigating the supposed vulnerability, and now the smartphone maker has issued a public response to the Ben-Gurion University researchers’ claims.

“After discussing the research with the original researchers, Samsung has verified that the exploit uses legitimate Android network functions in an unintended way to intercept unencrypted network connections from/to applications on the mobile device,” Samsung said in a statement posted on its Knox website. “This research did not identify a flaw or bug in Samsung KNOX or Android; it demonstrated a classic Man in the Middle (MitM) attack, which is possible at any point on the network to see unencrypted application data.”

The statement continued, “The research specifically showed this is also possible via a user-installed program, reaffirming the importance of encrypting application data before sending it to the Internet. Android development practices encourage that this be done by each application using SSL/TLS. Where that’s not possible (for example, to support standards-based unencrypted protocols, such as HTTP), Android provides built-in VPN and support for third-party VPN solutions to protect data. Use of either of those standard security technologies would have prevented an attack based on a user-installed local application.”

Samsung went on to offer three specific measures IT professionals can take in order to ensure that their firms’ data is protected from Man in the Middle attacks like the one described by the researchers at Ben-Gurion University. The company also offered a comment from a third-party security expert, who agreed with Samsung’s assessment.

“Proper configuration of mechanisms available within KNOX appears to be able to address the previously published issue,” said mobile security expert Patrick Traynor, a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “Samsung should strongly encourage all of their users to take advantage of those mechanisms to avoid this and other common security issues.”

Zach Epstein
Zach Epstein Executive Editor

Zach Epstein has been the Executive Editor at BGR for more than 10 years. He manages BGR’s editorial team and ensures that best practices are adhered to. He also oversees the Ecommerce team and directs the daily flow of all content. Zach first joined BGR in 2007 as a Staff Writer covering business, technology, and entertainment.

His work has been quoted by countless top news organizations, and he was recently named one of the world's top 10 “power mobile influencers” by Forbes. Prior to BGR, Zach worked as an executive in marketing and business development with two private telcos.