Beware: Replaced Phone Screens Could Let Hackers See All Your Data


Most of us have been in a situation where we have dropped our phone and cracked a screen. The only solution is to visit a repair shop and get the touchscreen replaced. However, new information reveals startling facts regarding replacement phone screens which are said to contain a secret chip that can hijack your phone.

In Usenix Workshop on Offensive Technologies conducted recently, a research paper titled ‘Shattered Trust: When Replacement Smartphone Components Attack‘ has been presented by researchers from the Ben Gurion University.

According to this research, replacement screens can be installed with built-in spying technology with the ability to harvest passwords, install malicious apps, and send pictures to the attacker.

The booby-trapped screens also have the ability exploit the device’s main processor and interfere with all software working.

Chip-in-the-middle Attack

The researchers add that the whole process is file-less, which means it can evade anti-virus software as well. This type of security issue is known as a “chip-in-the-middle” attack.

The researchers used an ATmega328 micro-controller and STM32L432 micro-controller for demonstration. They also told that most other micro-controllers could also do the job.

Hot air blower was used to detach the touchscreen controller from the main assembly boards to access its copper pads. This enabled them to attach a chip and use it for spying and transmitting data.

The researchers claim that both Android phones and iPhones could fall prey to the same types of attacks.

Inexpensive & Indistinguishable

The trickiest part is that it is hard to distinguish malicious screens from the legitimate ones which is why many service technicians are unaware of their malignant nature.

The replacement screens cost less than $10 and could easily be mass-produced. Apparently, only a person with a hardware background can differentiate between a real and fake screen after disassembling it.

The researchers, from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, wrote:

The threat of a malicious peripheral existing inside consumer electronics should not be taken lightly. As this paper shows, attacks by malicious peripherals are feasible, scalable, and invisible to most detection techniques.

A well motivated adversary may be fully capable of mounting such attacks in a large scale or against specific targets. System designers should consider replacement components to be outside the phone’s trust boundary, and design their defences accordingly.






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