Google Android flaw found

A security flaw in Google's new Android
operating system discovered recently by independent researchers
further underscores the security debate between open source and
proprietary software.


On Monday, Charlie Miller, Mark Daniel and Jake Honoroff of
Independent Security Evaluators said they have
identified and exploited a security vulnerability in Android. In
their findings, they said the first commercial phones using Android
-- in this case, T-Mobile's G1 -- are "being shipped with the
vulnerability present and may pose a security risk to their users
until an update becomes available."


Questions of whether the copyrighted OS is safer, or if this
should be considered a setback to Google's expansion into
non-search-related products and services, should be answered on a
case-by-case basis, said Derek Manky, a security researcher for
Fortinet.


"In general, today's threat-scape hosts threats [that] are
mostly targeted toward Windows as opposed to Linux," Manky said.
"So, in terms of volume and market share of exploits, proprietary
OSes would still be at higher risk. Keep in mind that this isn't
just the operating system itself. Most threats spawn from the code
applications which are hosted on that operating system, i.e.,
Windows and ActiveX controls."


Manky added that one upside to this discovery is that
vulnerabilities in open source OSes may be identified quicker,
because available source code makes it easy to search for potential
weaknesses.


Google's Second Security False Start?

The researchers who discovered the Android flaw opted not to
disclose its details until a fix can be issued. However, they said
that a successful exploit could allow an attacker to retrieve all
stored information in the victim's browser.


This same sort of controversy morphed into a larger discourse
about Google vs. Microsoft -- as well as open source vs. closed
source programs -- last month when a flaw was found in Google's much-heralded Chrome
browser. In that instance, Chrome, which is partly based on open
source software components used in Mozilla's Firefox and Apple's
WebKit, had flaws of its own that were remedied by both Firefox and
Mozilla.


For its part, Android is based on more than 80 different open
source packages. The researchers who discovered the bug said the
vulnerability arose from the fact that Google didn't use the most
up-to-date versions of all these packages (which admittedly can be
difficult, given the nature of real-time development in the open
source community). This means that while the Android vulnerability
may have been known and even fixed in the software packages that
come bundled with the T-Mobile G1 phone, on the back-end Google
still deployed an older and still-exposed edition of the OS.


Experts like Fortinet's Manky chalk it up to growing pains for
the developers of Google's nascent programs.


"I would say the largest difference here is that we are dealing
with a new mobile platform -- the source for Android was only
recently revealed -- that is, open source," he said. "What makes
this threat unique is that it was 'sought out' based off previous
knowledge, since it was a new product using an existing source
tree, which you don't have with Windows-based products."


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