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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12/13/2011 6:43:25 PM
While I may not be BBS old, I do remember the days of WinNuke. I spent a lot of time in AOL chat rooms and IMs way back when. I might have been considered a Troll. I used to love many of those AOL tools. Email bombs, IM spamming, chat floods. My favorite wasn’t even program related. I used to tell people how cool it was to press Alt-f4 while in the chat room just to watch them drop off like flies. I think this is why I still cringe a little when I think of getting a Windows phone. All devices have vulnerabilities but none seem more widely known then those found in anything Microsoft.
12/14/2011 7:50:23 PM
Yes, iOS has never had any vulnerabilities, and Apple always acknowledges flaws and patches them right away. Plus, Android has absolutely no malware, and even if it did, it will soon vanish because Google is releasing Ice Cream Strawberry Rhubarb Piewich, and it's immune to hacking just like Diablo II. Ask Blizzard how those claims worked out.
They all have plenty of holes, and when they're found they're quite widely known. You know why? Because just like Windows on PCs, iOS and Android are very popular on smartphones and tablets. If anything WP7.5 has a lower profile and will have less widely abused vulnerabilities.
12/15/2011 11:01:21 AM
Alt-F4 is why you cringe when you think of a windows phone? You make me cringe for exactly the same reason your favorite "hack" worked, not understanding something but doing it anyway.
A social engineering "hack" like telling someone to alt-F4 is a vulnerability that exists on all devices, never underestimate stupidity of users.
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