We have discovered a vulnerability in Android that can render a phone apparently dead – silent, unable to make calls, with a lifeless screen. This vulnerability is present from Android 4.3 (Jelly Bean) up to the current version, Android 5.1.1 (Lollipop). Combined, these versions account for more than half of Android devices in use today. No patch has been issued in the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) code by the Android Engineering Team to fix this vulnerability since we reported it in late May.
This vulnerability can be exploited in two ways: either via a malicious app installed on the device, or through a specially-crafted web site. The first technique can cause long-term effects to the device: an app with an embedded MKV file that registers itself to auto-start whenever the device boots would case the OS to crash every time it is turned on.
In some ways, this vulnerability is similar to the recently discovered Stagefright vulnerability. Both vulnerabilities are triggered when Android handles media files, although the way these files reach the user differs.
The kicker: Google calls it “a low priority vulnerability.”
There’s going to come a day of reckoning here. Some day, some way, several million people will be hit with an exploit — probably though a fake news site or infected video about a major news story that spreads like wildfire through Twitter — that will create a class-action lawsuit that Google will have to deal with for years.
And the bad press from that will cause a huge decline in Android device sales.