Protect Yourself Against the Android Lock Screen Flaw

On the heels of Android's Stagefright flaw, for which Google issued a patch that may leave some devices vulnerable, researchers at the University of Texas have discovered another Android security flaw, this time with the lock screen. This so-called lock screen flaw gives hackers a way to access your locked phone with knowing your password. In order for a hacker to gain access to your data in this way, they have to have physical access to your device; your device must run Lollipop; and you must use a password to unlock your screen. Here's how your smartphone could be breached and how you can protect yourself while you wait for the security patch to be released to your device.

How the Hack Works
The big difference between this flaw and Stagefright is that would-be hackers must you’re your phone in hand. The Stagefright breach occurs via a corrupted multimedia message that you don’t even have to open. (I've already written about how to protect your device from Stagefright.)

Once a hackers get their hand on your smartphone, they can bypass your lock screen by opening the camera app, and then inputting a too-long password, which in some cases will cause the lock screen to crash, and go straight to your home screen. Thus, the hacker can access all of your apps and private information. The good news? Google reports that it hasn't detected the usage of this exploit yet, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't protect yourself.

How to Protect Your Device
If your smartphone runs Lollipop and you use a password to unlock your phone, you could be vulnerable if your phone gets out of your hands. Google is already rolling out a fix for Nexus users, since it can send updates directly to these devices. However, everyone else will have to wait for their manufacturer or carrier to prepare and send out their own updates, which could take weeks.

So what can you do in the meantime? For now, you should change your unlock method to either a pin number or unlock pattern, neither of which can be breached in this manner. It's also worth enabling the Android Device Manager, which can track the location of your phone, and enable you to lock it, erase data, or make it ring if you think you left it nearby. HTC, Motorola, and Samsung each offer their own tracking services and there are also a number of third-party apps available.

If you're tired of waiting weeks and weeks to receive important OS and security updates, rooting your phone is always an option. When you root your phone, you get more control over it, and you can download updates without waiting for your carrier or manufacturer; for instance, the second Stagefright security patch from Google (which I still haven't received) and the lock screen fix. Be sure to look at the pros and cons of rooting first.

Security Updates
Speaking of security updates, recently Google, LG, and Samsung pledged to begin rolling out monthly security updates. Google has already started rolling out regular updates to Nexus users, but so far LG and Samsung have yet to begin, as reports. Here's hoping LG, Samsung, and the wireless carriers get the ball rolling before another security hole is discovered.


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Tech Magazine: Protect Yourself Against the Android Lock Screen Flaw
Protect Yourself Against the Android Lock Screen Flaw
Tech Magazine
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