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Android backdoor threatens users

Security researchers have discovered a vulnerability in Google's Android platform that can allow a remote attacker the chance to gain access to the system - potentially hacking peoples' smartphones and tablets wide open.

The flaw, which is thought to be distinct from the 88 "high risk" defects in the platform spotted by code analysis firm Coverity last week, stems from an already publicised vulnerability in the WebKit browser platform.

WebKit, which was developed by Apple from the open-source KHTML project and which forms the basis for the company's Safari browser and Google's Chrome as well as the in-built default browser on Android-based devices, has a long-standing issue which was previously thought to affect only desktop-based implementations of the browser engine.

Now, however, The H Security is reporting that a security researcher at Alert Logic has discovered that the flaw can be used to spawn a remote shell on vulnerable Android handsets - giving a remote attacker full access to the inner workings of the device.

Although the researcher has published public exploit code for the vulnerability, it hasn't had a great deal of testing. The exploit is known to work on Motorola's Milestone, or Droid in the US, handset running both the stock 2.0.1 version of Android as well as the updated Android 2.1, but other handsets have exhibited crashes rather than exploitation when running the code.

Devices based around Android 2.2, Google's latest release, are thought to be safe from the flaw. Sadly, however, that accounts for a minority of handsets, with an estimated 63 per cent of Android-based devices still running version 2.1 or below.

For those running a version of Android older than 2.2, there is currently no known workaround - and for a flaw that can be attacked simply by visiting a maliciously-crafted web page, that's a major blow for Android's public image.