Lilian Min
July 31, 2015 7:00 am

Are you reading this story on your phone right now? Are you reading your story on an Android phone? You’re in good company if you are — 80% of smartphones run the Android operating system. But while the system has a lot of benefits, there’s a big flaw leaving a huge security breach in Android-running phones, which would allow hackers to take over just by having your number.

A recent story in NPR details how hackers covertly send bad code into Android phones, and it has to do with how Android messaging apps process sent attachments: A hacker embeds a file with bad code and texts it or messages it to a number. In some message apps, the phone automatically begins processing the attachment; if you receive the text through the general Message/text app, then the phone processes the attachment once you read the text. Either way, you don’t have to even actively engage with the bad code for it to come alive, and from there, your phone is basically a hacker’s playground.

iPhone users avoid this issue by controlling both the physical phone form and the software inside it — if, say, a flaw like this was found in the current iOS, engineers can target it and send out an update to all iPhone users in a timely fashion. But since a slew of phone brands run Android, it’s a lot more difficult to get people to fix the problem. In fact, Google itself (which makes the Android OS) has already fixed the hole in its security, but the problem now becomes how to deliver this update to the millions of people who already have bad Android phones.

Most phone manufacturers spoke out about the issue when the NPR story went live; you can check on your phone make here. In the meantime, do a sweep of your online presence to make sure your number isn’t publicly displayed — around 20% of teens post their numbers online, but only 9% of them are very concerned about their online privacy. (Compare that to 50% of all other users.) And lest it bears repeating, weird attachments from unknown numbers are definitely terrible and shouldn’t be opened, no matter how safe or unsafe you think your phone is.

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(Image via Warner Bros.)

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