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Google’s Project Zero disclosed a zero-day Android exploit in popular devices from Pixel, Huawei, Xiaomi, and Samsung, last Friday. This flaw unlocks root-level access and requires no or minimal customization to root a phone that’s exposed to the bug. A similar Android OS flaw was fixed in 2017 but has now found its way on newer software versions as well. The researchers speculate that this vulnerability is attributed to the NSO group based in Israel.

Google has published a proof of concept which states that it is a kernel privilege escalation which uses a ‘use-after-free’ vulnerability, accessible from inside the Chrome sandbox.

How does the zero-day Android exploit work

As described in the upstream commit, “binder_poll() passes the thread->wait waitqueue that can be slept on for work. When a thread that uses

epoll explicitly exits using BINDER_THREAD_EXIT, the waitqueue is freed, but it is never removed from the corresponding epoll data structure. When the process subsequently exits, the epoll cleanup code tries to access the waitlist, which results in a use-after-free.”


Basically, the zero-day Android exploit can gain arbitrary kernel read/write when running locally. If the exploit is delivered via the web, it only needs to be paired with a renderer exploit, as this vulnerability is accessible through the sandbox. The vulnerability is exploitable in Chrome’s renderer processes under Android’s ‘isolated_app’ SELinux domain, making Binder as the vulnerable component.

Affected devices include Pixel, Pixel XL, Pixel 2, Pixel 2 XL, Huawei P20, Redmi 5A, Redmi Note 5, Mi A1, Oppo A3, Moto Z3, Oreo LG phones, Samsung Galaxy S7, Samsung Galaxy S8, and Samsung Galaxy S9.  This vulnerability was earlier patched in the Linux kernel version 4.14 and above, but without a CVE. Now, the vulnerability is being tracked as CVE-2019-2215.

“This issue is rated as High severity on Android and by itself requires installation of a malicious application for potential exploitation. Any other vectors, such as via web browser, require chaining with an additional exploit,” Project Zero member Tim Willis wrote in the post.

Project Zero normally offers a 90-day timeline for developers to fix an issue before making it public, but since this vulnerability was exploited in the wild, it was published in just seven days. In case 7 days elapse or a patch is made broadly available (whichever is earlier), the bug report will become visible to the public. Google said that affected Pixel devices will have the zero-day Android exploit patched in the upcoming October 2019 Android security update. Other OEMs have not yet acknowledged the vulnerability, but should ideally release patches soon.

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