Millions of Android phones, tablets are vulnerable to Heartbleed bug

San Francisco - Millions of smartphones and tablets running Google's Android operating system have the Heartbleed software bug, in a sign of how broadly the flaw extends beyond the Internet and into consumer devices.

While Google said in a blog post on Wednesday that all versions of Android are immune to the flaw, it added that the "limited exception" was one version dubbed 4.1.1, which was released in 2012.

Security researchers said that version of Android is still used in millions of smartphones and tablets, including popular models made by Samsung, HTC and other manufacturers. Google statistics show that 34 percent of Android devices use variations of the 4.1 software. The company said less than 10 percent of active devices are vulnerable. More than 900 million Android devices have been activated worldwide.

The Heartbleed vulnerability was made public last week and can expose people to hacking of their passwords and other sensitive information. While a fix was simultaneously made available and quickly implemented by the majority of Internet properties that were vulnerable to the bug, there is no easy solution for Android gadgets that carry the flaw, security experts said. Even though Google has provided a patch, the company said it is up to handset makers and wireless carriers to update the devices.

"One of the major issues with Android is the update cycle is really long," said Michael Shaulov, chief executive officer and co-founder of Lacoon Security, a cyber-security company focused on advanced mobile threats. "The device manufacturers and the carriers need to do something with the patch, and that's usually a really long process."

Christopher Katsaros, a spokesman for Mountain View, Calif.-based Google, confirmed there are millions of Android 4.1.1 devices. He pointed to an earlier statement by the company, in which it said it has "assessed the SSL vulnerability and applied patches to key Google services."

Microsoft said Friday that the Windows and Windows Phone operating systems and most services aren't impacted.

"A few services continue to be reviewed and updated with further protections," Tracey Pretorius, director of Microsoft Trustworthy Computing, wrote in an emailed statement.

Apple didn't respond to messages for comment.

Verizon Wireless, the biggest U.S. mobile-phone company, said Friday no other devices are impacted.

"Verizon is aware of the OpenSSL security vulnerability referred to as 'Heartbleed,' and we are working with our device manufacturers to test and deploy patches to any affected device on our network running Android 4.1.1," spokesman Albert Aydin wrote in an email. "Other mobile operating systems we offer are not affected by this vulnerability and we have no reason to believe that the issue has resulted in any compromise of Verizon customer accounts, websites, or data."

The Heartbleed bug, which was discovered by researchers from Google and a Finnish company called Codenomicon, affects OpenSSL, a type of open-source encryption used by as many as 66 percent of all active Internet sites. The bug, which lets hackers silently extract data from computers' memory, and a fix for it were announced simultaneously on Monday.

The reach of the vulnerability continues to widen as Cisco Systems and Juniper Networks said last week that some of their networking-gear products are affected and will be patched. The Canadian government has ordered websites operated by the federal government that use the vulnerable version of OpenSSL to be taken offline until they can be fixed.

The vast majority of large companies protected their systems immediately and the push is now on to make smaller companies do the same, said Robert Hansen, a specialist in Web application security and vice president of the advanced technologies group of WhiteHat Security.

Hackers have been detected scanning the Internet looking for vulnerable servers, especially in traffic coming from China, though it's difficult to know how many have been successful, said Jaime Blasco, director of AlienVault Labs, part of AlienVault. Many attempts have hit dead ends, Blasco said.

More than 80 percent of people running Android 4.1.1 who have shared data with mobile security firm Lookout are affected, said Marc Rogers, principal security researcher at the San Francisco-based company. Users in Germany are nearly five times as likely as those in the U.S. to be affected, probably because there is a device that uses that version of Android that is popular there, Rogers wrote in an email.

Still, there are no signs that hackers are trying to attack Android devices through the vulnerability as it would be complicated to set up and the success rate would be low, Rogers said. Individual devices are less attractive to go after because they need to be targeted one by one, he said.

"Given that the server attack affects such a larger number of devices and is so much easier to carry out, we don't expect to see any attacks against devices until after the server attacks have been completely exhausted," Rogers wrote in an email.

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