Adding apps to Samsung's Knox architecture for its Galaxy S4 might create a vulnerability that could allow e-mails, data transfers and browser histories to be accessed by third parties, says a research team at a prominent Israeli scientific university.
The supposed flaw could even allow hackers to manipulate data believed to be secure, a potential setback to the global smartphone king's efforts to have its Android-based devices adopted by employees of the U.S. Department of Defense, which has given preliminary approval for them.
Was Software Up To Date?
Samsung did not respond to our request for comment in time for publication but told The Wall Street Journal for its report on the flaw Monday that it is investigating the matter.
Samsung "takes all security vulnerability claims very seriously" a spokesman told the paper, while stressing that a preliminary investigation showed that "the threat appears to be equivalent to some well-known attacks."
The team at Ben Gurion University (BGU) of the Negev appears to have conducted the test on a device that was not running the complete software that would have been used by corporate clients, Samsung said.
"Rest assured, the core Knox architecture cannot be compromised or infiltrated by such malware," the spokesman said.
Discussing the finding on BGU's Web site, the researchers said a Ph.D. student, Mordechai Guri, stumbled onto the vulnerability during an unrelated project he is working on with a research team at the cyber security labs of the Homeland Security Institute at the campus, located in Beer-Sheva.
“To us, Knox symbolizes state-of-the-art in terms of secure architectures and I was surprised to find that such a big ’hole‘ exists and was left untouched," Guri said in a statement.
"The Knox has been widely adopted by many organizations and government agencies and this weakness has to be addressed immediately before it falls into the wrong hands," he added.
Full details were provided to the South Korea-based electronics giant, BGU said.
Knox, whose name is meant to invoke the heavily fortified Kentucky Army base that contains much of the U.S. gold reserve, consists of a secure "container" within the regular phone environment with better security protection. BGU claims that adding a seemingly innocuous app to the non-secure area can lead to malware compromising the secure area due to the security breach.
Cause For Concern
"Users should be concerned about this apparant security flaw," said technology analyst Jeff Kagan. "However it is important for every user to understand that security flaws show up all the time in [devices] by various manufacturers."