Replacement screens can be used to hack smartphones

Published on: 29 Aug 2017

Third-party replacement screens for damaged smartphones can be used by hackers to steal data, according to new research.

The study, presented by Israel’s Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, says that a malicious chip embedded with the new replacement touchscreen is used to carry out the attacks, which  are reportedly scalable and almost unnoticeable to the owner.

Researchers from the university demonstrated the malicious chip concept on two separate Android devices - the Huawei Nexus 6P and the LG G Pad 7.0 - where they gained control and took a photo of the user, which was then forwarded to would-be hackers.

The paper says that the threat of a malicious peripheral existing inside consumer electronics “should not be taken lightly”.

It goes on to say: “A well-motivated adversary may be fully capable of mounting such attacks on 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.”

In 2015, more than half of people with a smartphone had damaged their screen at least once, while 21 per cent of smartphone users reported using their devices with a cracked screen.