Millions of Android devices are vulnerable to remote spying due to critical chipset bugs

An adversary could gain remote access to media and audio conversations from affected mobile devices if three security vulnerabilities are not addressed in audio decoders of Qualcomm and MediaTek chips.

The Israeli cybersecurity company Check Point believes that a specially crafted audio file could be used to launch remote code execution (RCE) attacks.

Researchers said in a report shared with The Hacker News that an RCE vulnerability can allow an attacker to hijack multimedia data, including streaming from a compromised machine’s camera.

Furthermore, an unprivileged Android app would be able to use these vulnerabilities to escalate its privileges and access user data and conversations.”

The vulnerabilities are rooted in an audio coding format originally developed and open-sourced by Apple in 2011. Called the Apple Lossless Audio Codec (ALAC) or Apple Lossless, the audio codec format is used for lossless data compression of digital music.

Since then, several third-party vendors, including Qualcomm and MediaTek, have incorporated the Apple-supplied reference audio codec implementation as the basis for their own audio decoders.

And while Apple has consistently patched and remediated security flaws in its proprietary version of ALAC, the open-sourced variant of the codec has not received a single update since it was uploaded to GitHub 11 years ago on October 27, 2011.

The vulnerabilities discovered by Check Point relate to this ported ALAC code, two of which have been identified in MediaTek processors and one in Qualcomm chipsets –

  • CVE-2021-0674 (CVSS score: 5.5, MediaTek) – A case of improper input validation in ALAC decoder leading to information disclosure without any user interaction
  • CVE-2021-0675 (CVSS score: 7.8, MediaTek) – A local privilege escalation flaw in ALAC decoder stemming from out-of-bounds write
  • CVE-2021-30351 (CVSS score: 9.8, Qualcomm) – An out-of-bound memory access due to improper validation of number of frames being passed during music playback

In a proof-of-concept exploit devised by Check Point, the vulnerabilities made it possible to “steal the phone’s camera stream,” said security researcher Slava Makkaveev, who is credited with discovering the flaws alongside Netanel Ben Simon.

Following responsible disclosure, all the three vulnerabilities were closed by the respective chipset manufacturers in December 2021.

“The vulnerabilities were easily exploitable,” Makkaveev explained. “A threat actor could have sent a song (media file) and when played by a potential victim, it could have injected code in the privileged media service. The threat actor could have seen what the mobile phone user sees on their phone.”

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