Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The innovation paradox


One of the first things we learnt when we were in elementary school was to make a string phone. It was a way to understand the origin of the world of communications and the mechanics of the phone. We just needed two plastic cups with a hole in the base of each one and a rope. In a few minutes you could have a conversation with a classmate who was some meters away.

Technology has developed so fast in the last years that the analog phones look like museum objects. However, techonological development brings other difficulties. In the past few days we have seen how Rowhammer took control of the attacks towards Android mobile phones. Unlike other threats, Rowhammer can exploit a flaw in the hardware.

At first, smartphones shouldn’t worry too much about this type of attacks because they require advance memory components that are not yet present on mobile phones. But this week, researchers have discovered that Android phones can be victim of Rowhammer.

The list includes LG Nexus (4, 5, 5X) LG G4, Motorola Moto G (2013 and 2014), One Plus One, HTC Desire 510, Lenovo K3 Note, Xioma Mi 4i and Samsung Galaxy (S4, S5, S6). Researchers estimate there could be millions of possible affected devices and announced that they could do a test, through an app they have developed, to check which phones are infected. The app is expected to be on Google Play soon. Not all the phones would be equally vulnerable because, the attack is focused on hardware flaws, so the variation of the chip would be a determining factor.

This week we have heard that the generation 2G of phones can also be hacked, in just seconds. The work, done by the Agency for Science, Techonology and Research (A*STAR) has proved that it’s possible to break the A5/1 stream cipher implemented by 2G by using commodity hardware. This type of threats have been done since 2009, but nowadays they have discovered that it is much easier.

When making the string phone, the threats were that the rope or the plastic cup broke, nowadays digital threats develop almost at the same time as technology itself. In the case of the cyber threats it’s not just an interference in communication, it is more complex. Telephones now, are more complex too. And they are not just for communicating.

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