Windows Phone Becomes Latest Microsoft OS to Suffer From "Nuking"
December 13, 2011 1:14 PM
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Hackers can reset your phone via SMS, Facebook, or Windows Live Messenger communications
Some of you may have fond memories of "nuking" local Windows 95 machines using urgent pointer (URG) based TCP "winnuke" tools (e.g. "NukeIt") or Windows 98 machines via large fragmented IGMP packets with malformed headers. Now Microsoft's Windows Phone has become the latest in a long line of Microsoft Corp. (
) operating systems to be "hosed" by malicious traffic.
The flaw in Windows Phone, which affects the
latest build of Windows Phone 7.5 Mango
, as well as previous versions, was first discovered by Windows Phone hacker
. Rather than following in the tradition of hackers of yore, he worked with the site
to report the bug and securely disclose it to Microsoft.
The flaw appears to affect all Windows Phones, regardless of the manufacturer or model.
The attack works by sending a message to the Windows Phone message hub application. As this app accepts a variety of messages, the attacking message can be in the form of a SMS text message, a Facebook message, or a Windows Live Messenger hub.
When the message is received, errors in the handling in the hub cause the message to lock the device, killing whatever work you had in process. You can recover via a reboot.
However, your message hub app will stay dead. It is unclear if there is a fix for restoring messaging functionality, but barring a reformat of your device, the affected phone may be unable to message. Worse yet, if you have a live tile from the contact that sent the message, once it updates post-reboot it will trigger another system lock-up. There is a workaround for this -- quickly navigate to the homescreen and remove/unpin the tile before it "flips" (updates).
Here's a video, courtesy of
of the attack in action:
For now, as mentioned, this severe vulnerability's implementation details are under wraps, pending a fix, so Windows Phone users should only be mildly concerned.
Again, this vulnerability appears to be solely capable of denial of service, and does not affect your system security. In that regard it appears to be very similar to the aforementioned "winnuke" attacks, or the more recent "
" messaging attack demoed against Android and iOS by researchers Collin Mulliner, a PhD student in the
Security in Telecommunications
department at the
Technische Universitaet Berlin
, an undergraduate student at the same institution.
These attacks differ from security-breach attacks, like the
SMS attack that affected older unpatched version of iOS
, first discovered by Charlie Miller. The key difference is that those kinds of attacks utilize flaws in messaging apps which allow the execution of arbitrary code as a path to root control; where as attacks like the one in this article exploit flaws in message handling which do not execute arbitrary code, but do trigger some sort of catastrophic system failure.
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Service provider fix
12/13/2011 1:56:22 PM
Shouldn't it be really easy for the service providers to provide a temporary fix for this? Simply if an SMS is of the offending format, do not send the message (or send some variant of it that will not cause the phone to lock).
I'm sure there are some security concerns over service providers scanning messages, but it's no different than your email service automatically scanning for a virus/spam, and I'm sure Verizon or Sprint or whoever would love to be able to say "This effects all Win 7.5 phones ... that are NOT on our service"
"There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere." -- Isaac Asimov
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