If you are one of 600 million Samsung device users worldwide, your mobile security is at risk. That’s because all Samsung devices (yes, even the snazzy new Galaxy S6) are vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks on public WiFi. The vulnerability is due to a problem with SwiftKey, a keyboard app that’s preinstalled on all Samsung android devices.
Though Samsung is working feverishly to release a patch, we highly recommend that you protect yourself right now by installing a mobile security app such as ZoneAlarm Capsule that blocks hackers from communicating with your device. Make sure the app you choose includes a VPN that encrypts all incoming and outgoing communications on Public WiFi.
The Vulnerability Nitty Gritty
The flaw that makes man-in-the-middle attacks possible on every unprotected Samsung device relates to the SwiftKey app that runs by default on Samsung devices. The flaw, by the way, is only present in preinstalled versions of SwiftKey. If you’ve downloaded SwiftKey at Google Play to run on a non-Samsung device, or if you have the iOS version from the Apple App Store, you’re safe.
The flaw makes SwiftKey vulnerable during automatic updates. If the app updates while you are using public WiFi, a hacker using the same network could exploit the vulnerability and install malware on your phone. Such malware could give the hacker system level permissions that enable them to monitor your camera, microphone, messages and more – all without your knowledge.
The flaw was uncovered and revealed to Samsung by mobile security experts some time ago. When Samsung failed to release a patch for the problem, these same security experts decided to make the vulnerability known to the public. Not only does this enable all of us to be proactive in protecting ourselves but it also puts pressure on Samsung to patch the problem.
Because SwiftKey is a native Samsung app, it cannot be uninstalled. Furthermore, even if you don’t use the SwiftKey keyboard, you’re not protected from potential hacks, since the app automatically updates even if you aren’t using it.
Samsung is working double-time to get out a patch, but once it does, the patch will only apply to Samsung models enabled with the KNOX security platform (these include Samsung Galaxy S4, S4 Mini, S5 and S6). Anyone using older Samsung devices (including yours truly) won’t be helped by the patch.
Of course, this doesn’t mean 600 million Samsung users should sit idly by and wait to be hacked. Here are 4 things you can do right now to protect yourself.
1. Don’t use unsecured public WiFi without protection.
If you do, and you happen to be using the same unsecured network as a hacker is using, you could be hacked.
2. Install a mobile security app such as ZoneAlarm Capsule.
Make sure the app protections stay ON, especially when you are on public WiFi.
3. If your Samsung device is KNOX-enabled, make sure it is set to receive automatic updates.
When Samsung comes up with a patch, this is how they’ll distribute it. Go to Settings > Lock Screen and Security > Other Security Settings > Security Policy Updates.
4. If your device is not KNOX-enabled, keep your eyes open for new security updates.
Install them as soon as they become available, and in the meantime, follow tips 1 and 2!
Will your use of public WiFi change as a result of this news?