back to article Backdoor sniffed in ZTE's US Android smartphones

Chinese handset manufacturer ZTE has confirmed the presence of a backdoor in one of its Android smartphones. ZTE's Score M ships with an application featuring a hardcoded password that gives the user, or software running on the device, administrator-level access. Running the program with the password spawns a root shell prompt …


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  1. Piloti

    Moral of the story......

    DOn't but cheap Chinese shit, no matter how cheap.....

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Moral of the story......

      Trust..... Don't trust any of them ever!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Moral of the story......

      That is not the moral.

      I have seen more cases of idiotic setuid code than I would even dare to imagine (and I admit producing some in my early days as well). I have seen it in shipping software by some really big names too. Remember sendmail test mode that allowed to execute any code you like as root? Or more recently (read BUGTRAQ and wheep) a security toolkit trying to execute executables suspected of being renamed PHP, Perl, etc to confirm their identification? Doing that as root too?

      Just goes to show that their software developers can arise to the same standard of incompetence.

      1. Oninoshiko

        Re: Moral of the story......

        maybe the moral of the story is we need to be revisiting how we do security on these types of devices.

        I wonder if an L4-esque pure microkernel would be as suceptible to these types of failures.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      But *expensive* Chinese shit... the iPhone is fine? I want some of what you're smoking, dude...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: But *expensive* Chinese shit...

        To be fair, it isn't a Chinese company that is in charge of the expensive shit, only the cheap shit that the Chinese see from cradle to rooted grave.

    4. Chronos

      Re: Moral of the story......

      DOn't but cheap Chinese shit, no matter how cheap.....

      I see your trollface but it's still utter tosh. How is a setuid binary on a ZTE any different to, say, Carrier IQ being present and put there by the network?

      Is it 'coz they is Chinese? I thought we were supposed to be above xenophobia these days...

      This is why those of us who care about our prvacy root our phones: Without root, these suid shenanigans have a free hand. With root, a remount rw and a chmod/rm cures the problem without having to wait for the fix.

      1. Piloti

        Re: Moral of the story......

        There is a long and steady stream of mis-trust towards Chinese suppliers, such as H'wei, ZTE et al.

        India [] pulled the plug on them for while, because they were accused of "snooping", they were dropped from the BT 21CN, er, network. El Reg recently reported that H'wei were "banned" from Australia.

        The Chinese are plough, literally, through Africa, securing mining rights for rare earths, in exchange for the occasional new road or football stadium , here [] and here, [ ] p'raps.

        And all of this to give us some cheap stuff, because we are obsessed with saving a tenner. Chinese suppliers have shown on many occasion that they are not to be trusted. This is not, as you suggest xenophobia, this is a pragmatic view of the global supply chain, and the information knowledge that is heading in one direction; and it is not to the UK, but away. The more we buy into the economic model of China, the more we are sowing the seeds for our own demise. So, save that ten quid, but the ZTE made Vodafone branded handset, but don't go crying to anybody when you find your visa card maxed out and the root cause turns out to be your mobile…..

        1. Quxy
          Thumb Down

          Re: Moral of the story......

          Yes, there is a long and steady stream of mistrust against Chinese suppliers -- in the West. In Africa, the situation is reversed. Having learned from decades of relationships with Western countries in which political manipulation and resource stripping was disastrous for 99.99% of the population, democratic African countries are telling the US to fsck off and jumping at the opportunity for economic development relationships that are strictly commercial in nature -- China has (to the occasional dismay of the US) a well-established "hands off" policy w/r/t other countries' politics. The relationships aren't perfect, but in places like Ethiopia where I've spent time talking to people, there is a lot more popular support and sense of fairness about the massive Chinese infrastructure development projects than there ever was for American involvement.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Like the Sony XCP rootkit and MediaMax CD-3, it's exploitable by all.

    "...For a fee,

    I'm happy to be,

    Your back-door man.

    Dirty deeds, done dirt-cheap."

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    China's Googlorola approval

    Now I get why China demanded that Android remain open for 5 years...

  4. Wile E. Veteran

    Every day

    Every day another reason to be glad I dumped my smartphone for a good old feature phone. I'm simply not missing any "apps" since I can still make voice calls (better voice quality than the smartphone), send/receive texts (SMS), send/receive MMS, do email from my IMAP4 accounts, get the weather via the little built-in web browser and use Mobile Twitter. There's enough of a calendar to keep track of my personal appointments, too.

    Yeah, there's a camera but I've yet to see a camera on a phone usable for anything more than "Look how wasted I was last night." pictures.

    Smartphones - who needs them?

  5. Jaymax
    Black Helicopters

    Meh, firmware might be the wrong place to be looking for the scariest stuff

    Is it just me who wonders about the high-end, quality, closed-source freebie suites of Android software that come out of China (or anywhere for that matter)

    By the time you've installed a 3rd-party launcher, locker, messaging app, and keyboard app from some crowd with apparently large resources, and seemingly zero monetisation from their efforts, it's entirely possible you've compromised yourself to an extraordinary extent.

    I've decided I'm not going to GO there with certain apps since upgrading to Aurora-ICS.

    Not that I'd make an interesting target, but I wonder how many of the worlds top politicians are running a nice 'safe' reputable phone handset, on a local network where at least any taps are from one's own spooks, rather than the competitions; while meanwhile the cool 'core' apps they've installed (and probably themed in 'patriotic' colours) are piping off all sorts of potentially interesting content to spooks of a different stripe.

    A backdoor in plaintext in a firmware system file on a cheap device isn't nearly as scary as one well hidden in relatively awesome and popular closed-source freeware. You might trust your lovely Samsung Nexus or US Govt approved Dell, but who paid for the development of that cool launcher app you show off to your iPhone using friends?

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Been There, Seen That

    Once the schedule pressure cranks up, it is amazing any security is left at all. The menus and phone and SMSG have to work to get out the door, but security doesn't, so guess what baby is tossed out? NA and EU tend to have a few developers left that care, but with just a few more resource actions you might as well buy Chinese, it won't be any worse... or better... It is sooo much easier to do remote phone maintenance as root using some free incarnation of ftp or telnet, than have to manage something faintly secure like counter signing patches and ssh. And, your bosses are much happier to ship on time than late. If you don't ship on time, you might be right, but being unemployed is cold compensation.

    The only thing saving most of the smartphone users is the sheer number of shearlings waiting to be fleeced. There are so many of you, and so few wolves.

  7. TeeCee Gold badge

    "....fodder for conspiracy theorists."

    Never assume a conspiracy when the evidence can be easily explained by sheer stupidity.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "....fodder for conspiracy theorists."

      I quite agree, but: Don't ignore the stupidity, learn from it, work out what could happen and enable yourself to protect against it.

  8. JaitcH

    So American software doesn't have backdoors?

    With the penchant for government to get in to your pants and your brain, particularly the US Government, do you actually believe there are no backdoors around?

    Maybe ZTE was stupid enough to leave an engineering access, but there again, they are not the first.

    If you want security, go use your own devices to get it.

    Or use two handsets, one for receiving a conversation and another for transmitting a conversation - using different networks for each really upsets Plod as they can't figure it. Better still, use a pager to set up calls.

    Or,stretched on the ground, facing your talking partner, with hands covering the sides of your faces, you can really have a private conversation. (from an Al Qaida manual not allowed in the UK).

  9. ukgnome

    Hands up who

    bought a ZTE device so that they could install a ROM that the clever Devs on modaco and XDA created?

    I know that I did :-)

  10. MrZoolook

    That sucks!

    I have an S version HTC, so I can't even root my mobile even with hours of downloads and tutorials online, and those guys get a root password handed to them?

    No fair man!

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