How to check if your Android phone is vulnerable to the USSD security flaw

Is your Android phone at risk to a USSD security flaw? Here's how to find out

The Samsung Galaxy S III is one Android phone that is susceptible to the USSD security flaw.

The Samsung Galaxy S III is one Android phone that is susceptible to the USSD security flaw.

A security flaw has been discovered on various Android smartphones that allows a USSD code to perform a factory reset without any confirmation prompt. Is your Android phone at risk? Here's how to find out.

The USSD flaw was highlighted overnight at a Security Conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina by Ravi Borganokar, a researcher in the telecommunications department at the Technical University of Berlin. It was first said to occur only on various Samsung smartphones running the TouchWIZ UI overlay, but it has since been discovered that the problem can affect various other Android phones, too.

The USSD codes themselves aren't a problem, but on some Android phones these can be executed without a confirmation prompt. Some of these codes, typed into the phones keypad, are harmless (such as the one used to display a phone's IMEI number) but other codes can factory reset the phone. USSD codes typically start with an asterisk (*) followed by numbers and almost always end with a hash (#).

On Android phones that don't require a confirmation prompt, a factory reset USSD code can be dialled automatically by the phone. While it's almost impossible to dial the code into the dialler accidentally, this code could be embedded into a URL link, a QR code, or an SMS by a hacker. This would mean you phone would be factory reset as soon as you opened the malicious link.

To check if your Android phone is vulnerable, follow these steps:

1. Visit this link through your phone's Web browser. Don't worry, it's a test page so it's not going to reset your phone!

2. If your phone's dialler pops up and shows a number, your phone isn't affected and there's no need to worry. This is shown below on a Sony Xperia go:

However, if your phones dialler pops up and immediately displays a pop up menu with your IMEI number, your phone is vulnerable to this security flaw. This is displayed below on a Samsung Galaxy S III:

To fix this security flaw until your carrier or manufacturer issues a patch for the problem, you can download an app called TelStop. You can find it in the Google Play Store here.

1. Install TelStop from the Google Play Store. You should see this screen when you open it.

2. Close the app and now visit this link again through your phone's Web browser. You should now see a prompt that asks if you'd like to complete this action using your stock dialler or TelStop, as shown below:

3. To see the link, select TelStop. You will then receive a warning that this is likely a malicious code, as shown below:

From now on, if you click a link on your phone or scan a QR code and you see the above screen, it is likely to be hidden code that could wipe your phone.

Is your Android phone affected by the USSD security flaw? Run the tests above and let us know in the comments below.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.
Ross Catanzariti

Ross Catanzariti

PC World
Show Comments

Essentials

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?