Researchers Show How Replacement Screens Can Be Used To Hijack Your Phone


Image: University of the Negev
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In this era of technology, we depend on our smart machines for our lives. The little gadgets contain so much information of our personal and professional lives that they have become a threat to us. If there were not enough ways of hacking into our phones, now the replacement parts in your phone will make you vulnerable to it as well.

Researchers from the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel have published a research that shows how the smallest of phone fixes can get your phone compromised. The study showed how simply a replacement screen could be tempered to override your mobile phone. A malicious integrated chip in a third party touchscreen can easily be used to control the device entirely. They demonstrated with such a screen and manipulated the communications systems on different phones, including Huawei Nexus 6P and LG G Pad.

Image: University of the Negev

The researchers were able to record keyboard inputs, capture photos, and communicate all of this through emails, and even install apps and direct users to phishing websites. In another attack, they demonstrated the vulnerability of the operating system kernel in the phones.

Apparently, this is not even a task difficult to achieve. Such malicious screens can be made identical to the real ones, and even the phone technicians may not be able to identify the real one. Since the system is file-less, even an anti-virus software can be no help at all.

The “chip-in-the-middle” technique is quite a low cost and it serves to perform many malicious tasks. This hijacking demonstration was conducted using Arduino platform running on ATmega328 micro-controller module and another one using the STM32L432 microcontroller. The team separated touchscreen controllers from the assembly boards using a hot air blower, got access to the copper pads, and soldered them to attach their own chips. This means the entire arrangement should be pretty visible, but according to the team, only a little more effort is required to hide it in reassembled device.

Android phones are not the only ones susceptible to such attacks. Researchers demonstrate that similar techniques can be used to hack into iPhones.

We have all cracked our smartphone screens once in life or at least know a few people who have. Will you ever be able to get a replacement screen without a fear? Feel vulnerable yet?

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