Free Android USSD vulnerability protection from ESET now on Google Play

If you use an Android phone you may have heard of something called the USSD vulnerability. This allows a nasty piece of malicious software to reset your Android to its factory default settings and permanently delete your data. We will describe the USSD problem in more detail in a moment but first we want to let you know that, because this is a particularly unpleasant case of malware destroying information, ESET has provided a free app available from Google Play to protect your Android phone from this type of attack.

The app is called ESET USSD Control. According to Tibor Novosad, Head of Mobile Applications Section at ESET: “ESET USSD Control is an application that allows the user to check potentially malicious phone numbers (USSD codes) before they are dialed (executed) by the default phone dialer. ESET USSD Control will block malicious websites [that abuse USSD codes] as well. Checking for malicious codes before they are executed, ESET USSD Control makes sure all data on an Android phone stays safe.”

How does ESET USSD Control work?

ESET USSD ControlThe app displays a warning window each time a malicious USSD code is found, blocking the execution of the command, as seen in the screenshot on the right.

In order to protect your Android smartphone from USSD attacks, you have to make sure that ESET USSD Control is set as the default dialer. Here’s how:

  1. Download ESET USSD Control from Google Play and install on your Android phone.
  2. Use your Android phone to visit our test page: http://www.eset.com/tools/ussdtest (note that this only contains a checker and will not make changes to your phone).
  3. When prompted to complete the action, select Use by default for this action and select ESET USSD Control.

Note that ESET only scans USSD code and does not store phone numbers.

We hope this app will help keep your Android safe. We’re pleased to make this available free to the Android community as part of our continuing effort to support the Android ecosystem and to empower users to stay safe on their mobile devices.

The Android USSD Vulnerability

USSD is a code used by phone manufacturers and carriers for simple customer support. The letters stand for  Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD). The code starts with an asterisk (*) and continues with hashtags or digits representing commands/data, then ends with a hashtag (#).   By entering these codes on your phone you can, for example, see your device’s IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity). The USSD code for this is *#06#. Other codes reveal different information or carry out actions, like a device reset.

The potential exists for a web page to instruct your phone to load a “tel:” URI (uniform resource identifier) with a special factory reset code inside an iframe. As Lucian Constantin at ComputerWorld reported, this attack was described by Ravishankar Borgaonkar, a research assistant in the Telecommunications Security department at the Technical University of Berlin, who demonstrated the remote data wiping attack during the Ekoparty security conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

These malicious iframes could be placed on hacked websites or specially designed sites. As you probably know, there are numerous ways to trick your smartphone into going to a website, like QR codes or NFC chips (as my colleague Stephen Cobb illustrated in a short video). With ESET USSD Control on your Android you won’t need to worry that such tricks will be used to wipe your phone via USSD codes. For more about this problem, and ESET’s solution, check out the infographic (click for larger view):

ESET USSD Control for Android

 

Author Cameron Camp, ESET

  • John

    Is this feature going to be rolled into the ESET Mobile Security app? I really don’t want to be managing or installing multiple apps for each type of attack.

  • John

    BTW your certificate isn’t trusted by the Dolphin Browser on Android 2.3.

  • MelissaL

    This is a great product – especially as you're offering it as a free download from Google Play. The article also describes very well what the threat is any why users should not allow the code to run. The only suggestion I would make is integrating this bit of information into the UI so that users can understand what they are blocking without having to do any external research. Otherwise, an incredibly useful product!

    • Aryeh Goretsky

      Hello,

      Thank you for the feedback, Melissa.

      Regards,

      Aryeh Goretsky

  • Daniel

    Does the paid ESET Mobile Security application also protect against USSD misuse?

    • Aryeh Goretsky

      Hello John and Daniel,

      We’re looking at adding protection against USSD vulnerabilities to ESET Mobile Security. The ESET USSD Control app was released as a free standalone app due to the widespread attention this threat received. Some Android devices do not have access to Google Play, so ESET is also making the app available for download directly on their web site at http://www.eset.com/tools/ussdtest/esetussd.apk.

      Regards,

      Aryeh Goretsky

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