Last month, Chinese security researchers uncovered a security vulnerability in an Android software library developed by the Chinese search giant Baidu, and when it comes to security vulnerabilities, this one’s a whopper. It allows an attacker to remotely wreak all sorts of havoc on someone’s phone, from sending fake SMS messages to downloading arbitrary files to installing other apps without the user’s authorization.
The widespread deployment of the vulnerable software library makes things even worse. The library, known as the Moplus SDK, is used by over 14,000 separate Android apps. By some estimates, as many as 100 million unique Android devices were vulnerable.
Google also shares responsibility for this vulnerability due to its all-or-nothing permissions regime:
Google is worried that giving users a choice about which apps are communicating about them could put a dent in their lucrative advertising business. After all, a flashlight app without Internet access can’t display ads.
The problem is that security and privacy are two sides of the same coin. By refusing to give users a choice about whether or not apps have Internet access, Google is putting its users at risk and sending the message that it cares more about its bottom line than its users’ security.
Fortunately for Google, this is an easy fix—just include Internet access as one of the permissions apps have to request in the next version of Android. Otherwise, Moplus SDK won’t be the last major Android security catastrophe.
We rather doubt that the Monster of Mountain View is going to put users ahead of profits. That would jeopardize the golden gravy train of advertising, and Google certainly doesn’t want that.