First Network Operator Disables MMS Delivery Due to Stagefright

Several news portals report today (see here, here and here) that the first network operator has disabled MMS delivery temporarily due to most Android mobiles in the wild today being vulnerable to the Stagefright that can be exploited by sending videos by MMS and other means. Instead, an SMS is sent to customers with a link to view the MMS contents in a browser. Quite a responsible step and I wonder if or how many network operators will follow the example.

This announcement is quite something! I have never heard that a network operator has disabled one of its own services because of a mobile device vulnerability. As the articles linked-to above point out, it's no secret in the mobile industry that Whatsapp and other services are now much preferred over expensive MMS messaging, so perhaps little revenue is lost by this step.

In the announcement the carrier said that this is only a temporary solution until a fix has been found. That makes me wonder how that fix could look like and how long this temporary solution remains in place!? It's unlikely that the threat will go away anytime soon as it will take quite some time for devices to get patched as an Android OS patch is required. That means the update can't be delivered via Google's app store but needs to be incorporated by device manufacturers in their builds for each device. Good luck with that. Also, I guess there will be many devices that will never get updated as device manufacturers have already lost interest in providing OS updates for devices that are somewhat older.

Another solution I can imagine would be to put a "virus scanner" in place on the MMS server in the network to filter out malicious videos. But that will cost time and money not only initially but also to keep the signatures up to date. That makes me wonder if the service still makes enough money to justify such a measure!? On this account I wouldn't be surprised if Facebook, Google and others are already scrambling to put scanners in place to make sure videos that are put on their services by users do not contains malicious content.

No matter how I look at it, I can't help but feel that we've just reached a tipping point when it comes to mobile security. Google and device manufacturers need to do something radical and drastic NOW to make sure that future Android devices can be patched in a timely manner (i.e. in a matter of hours just like what is possible for desktop operating systems) rather than having to wait for device manufacturers to come up with new builds or, even worse, not being able to patch Android devices at all anymore due to lack of manufacturer support.

2 thoughts on “First Network Operator Disables MMS Delivery Due to Stagefright”

  1. Martin,

    Are sure it is a first? I have vague memories of MMS gateways doing some filtering of malware back when I was Symbian probably around 2003-2004.

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