Staying updated with the latest security news can be quite challenging. It seems like there’s a new threat targeting our devices almost every week. However, the current concern is particularly significant. If you own a Samsung Galaxy or a recent Google Pixel, hackers might be able to breach your phone using just your phone number.
Last year into early 2023, Google’s security research team, Project Zero, discovered a staggering 18 zero-day vulnerabilities in Samsung Exynos modems. Zero-day vulnerabilities are especially dangerous because malicious actors become aware of them before software and hardware vendors do, increasing the risk of potential attacks.
What makes this situation even more alarming is that four out of the 18 zero-days allow for “Internet-to-baseband remote code execution.” Essentially, a hacker can gain control of your phone without requiring any action from your end. They only need access to your phone number, assuming you possess one of the affected devices.
It’s important to note that the Samsung Exynos modem (different from the Exynos SoC found in Galaxy devices outside the U.S.) powers the phone call functionality in your smartphone. Project Zero has compiled a list of the potentially affected devices:
- Mobile devices from Samsung, including those in the S22, M33, M13, M12, A71, A53, A33, A21s, A13, A12, and A04 series.
- Mobile devices from Vivo, including those in the S16, S15, S6, X70, X60, and X30 series.
- The Pixel 6 and Pixel 7 series of devices from Google.
- Any vehicles utilizing the Exynos Auto T5123 chipset.
While the situation is certainly concerning, there is some positive news. Patches and updates have already been released to address these security threats. Google has resolved all four critical vulnerabilities with their March update. If you own a Pixel 6 or Pixel 7, it is crucial to update your device as soon as possible to ensure your protection.
Samsung has also taken steps to address the issue. The company has patched five out of six identified security vulnerabilities in its March update, despite Project Zero indicating four critical vulnerabilities. It is worth noting that Samsung does not classify the six vulnerabilities it acknowledges as “critical.” However, if they pertain to these zero-day modem vulnerabilities, their significance should not be underestimated.
While waiting for the final patch from Samsung, there are measures you can take to enhance the security of your Samsung Galaxy device. One recommendation is to disable Wi-Fi calling, as it can help safeguard against the internet-to-baseband remote code execution. To do this, navigate to Settings > Connections and disable the “Wi-Fi Calling” option.
Disabling VoLTE (Voice Over LTE) is another potential solution, although it comes with certain challenges. Firstly, it affects your ability to make and receive phone calls. Additionally, disabling VoLTE might not be within your control since it is now managed by your carrier. A workaround for this is to switch your Network mode to “2G/3G,” but this may not be ideal for many users. In my opinion, it’s best to keep your phone connected to LTE or 5G, disable Wi-Fi calling, and await the final patch from Samsung.
Remember, updating your device promptly and following the recommended security measures will go a long way in protecting your smartphone from potential threats.