Researchers at North Carolina State University have uncovered a security flaw in eight different Android phones that could let malicious third-party apps eavesdrop and track users by accessing critical services, like geo-location and recorded audio, without a user's permission.
How is that possible? The researchers found "capability leaks" in pre-installed services and applications on phones by Samsung, HTC and Motorola. There are two types of capability leaks, "explicit" and "implicit," and they work a little something like this: an explicit leak lets an app ask for permissions to features that haven't been properly locked down, and an implicit leak lets one app piggyback on another app's permissions to do whatever the user approved for the original program. Those two apps would have to share certain IDs and likely be from the same author, but it could mean that two seemingly innocuous apps could tag-team: an IM client could "borrow" the permissions of a voice recorder app to eavesdrop on your conversations.
Out of the 13 "privileged services" the researchers tested for, 11 were leaked by various built-in programs; HTC's Evo 4G was the least secure device with eight leaks, while the three most secure devices ran a clean version of Android with no carrier or manufacturer modifications and only had one leaked service each. Google and Motorola even admitted to the research team that they were aware of these issues, although Samsung and HTC refused to comment. Since Google's already aware of this problem, we're hoping it took the time to fix things in Ice Cream Sandwich.