Stagefright (bug)

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Logo of the Stagefright library bug

Stagefright is the name given to a group of software bugs that affect versions 2.2 ("Froyo") and newer of the Android operating system. The name is taken from the affected library, which among other things, is used to unpack MMS messages.[1] Exploitation of the bug allows an attacker to perform arbitrary operations on the victim's device through remote code execution and privilege escalation.[2] Security researchers demonstrate the bugs with a proof of concept that sends specially crafted MMS messages to the victim device and in most cases requires no end-user actions upon message reception to succeed—the user doesn’t have to do anything to ‘accept’ the bug, it happens in the background. The phone number is the only target information.[3][4][5][6]

The underlying attack vector exploits certain integer overflow vulnerabilities in the Android core component called "Stagefright",[7][8][a] which is a complex software library implemented primarily in C++ as part of the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) and used as a backend engine for playing various multimedia formats such as MP4 files.[6][10]

The discovered bugs have been provided with multiple Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) identifiers, CVE-2015-1538, CVE-2015-1539, CVE-2015-3824, CVE-2015-3826, CVE-2015-3827, CVE-2015-3828, CVE-2015-3829 and CVE-2015-3864 (the latter one has been assigned separately from the others), which are collectively referred to as the Stagefright bug.[11][12][13]


The Stagefright bug was discovered by Joshua Drake from the Zimperium security firm, and was publicly announced for the first time on July 27, 2015. Prior to the announcement, Drake reported the bug to Google in April 2015, which incorporated a related bugfix into its internal source code repositories two days after the report.[3][4][5][6] In July 2015, Evgeny Legerov, a Moscow-based security researcher, announced that he had found at least two similar heap overflow zero-day vulnerabilities in the Stagefright library, claiming at the same time that the library has been already exploited for a while. Legerov also confirmed that the vulnerabilities he discovered become unexploitable by applying the patches Drake submitted to Google.[2][14]

The public full disclosure of the Stagefright bug, presented by Drake, took place on August 5, 2015 at the Black Hat USA[15] computer security conference, and on August 7, 2015 at the DEF CON 23[16] hacker convention.[6] Following the disclosure, on August 5, 2015 Zimperium publicly released the source code of a proof-of-concept exploit, actual patches for the Stagefright library (although the patches were already publicly available since early May 2015 in the AOSP and other open-source repositories[17][18]), and an Android application called "Stagefright detector" that tests whether an Android device is vulnerable to the Stagefright bug.[12][19]

As of August 3, 2015, only a few products have been actually patched against the bug: Blackphone's PrivatOS since its version 117, nightly releases of the CyanogenMod 12.0 and 12.1,[20] Sprint's variant of the Samsung Galaxy Note 4,[21] the Moto E, G, and X, Droid Maxx, Mini, and Turbo,[22] and Mozilla Firefox since its version 38 (and Firefox OS since 2.2)[23] (this web browser internally uses Android's Stagefright library).[4][5][24]

On August 13, 2015, another Stagefright vulnerability, CVE-2015-3864, was published by Exodus Intelligence.[13] This vulnerability was not mitigated by existing fixes of already known vulnerabilities. CyanogenMod team published a notice that patches for CVE-2015-3864 have been incorporated in CyanogenMod 12.1 source on August 13, 2015.[25]

On October 1, 2015, Zimperium released details of further vulnerabilities, also known as Stagefright 2.0. This vulnerability affects specially crafted MP3 and MP4 files that execute their payload when played using the Android Media server. The vulnerability has been assigned identifier CVE-2015-6602 and was found in a core Android library called libutils; a component of Android that has existed since Android was first released. Android 1.5 through 5.1 are vulnerable to this new attack and it is estimated that one billion devices are affected.[26]


While Google maintains the Android's primary codebase and firmware, updates for various Android devices are the responsibility of wireless carriers and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). As a result, propagating patches to the actual devices often introduces long delays due to a large fragmentation between the manufacturers, device variants, Android versions, and various Android customizations performed by the manufacturers;[27][28] furthermore, many older or lower cost devices may never receive patched firmware at all.[29] Many of the unmaintained devices would need to be rooted, which violates the terms of many wireless contracts. Therefore, the nature of Stagefright bug highlights the technical and organizational difficulties associated with the propagation of Android patches.[4][30]

As an attempt to address the delays and issues associated with the propagation of Android patches, on August 1, 2015 Zimperium formed the Zimperium Handset Alliance (ZHA) as an association of different parties interested in exchanging information and receiving timely updates on Android's security-related issues. Members of the ZHA also received source code of the Zimperium's proof-of-concept Stagefright exploit before it was publicly released. As of August 6, 2015, 25 of the largest Android device OEMs and wireless carriers have joined the ZHA.[12][17][31]


Certain mitigations of the Stagefright bug exist for devices that run unpatched versions of Android, including disabling the automatic retrieval of MMS messages and blocking the reception of text messages from unknown senders. However, these two mitigations are not supported in all MMS applications (the Google Hangouts app, for example, only supports the former),[2][4] and they do not cover all feasible attack vectors that make exploitation of the Stagefright bug possible by other means, such as by opening or downloading a malicious multimedia file using the device's web browser.[7][32]

At first it was thought that further mitigation could come from some the address space layout randomization (ASLR) feature that was introduced in Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich", fully enabled in Android 4.1 "Jelly Bean";[7][33] The version of Android 5.1 "Lollipop" includes patches against the Stagefright bug.[11][34] Unfortunately, later results and exploits like Metaphor that bypass ASLR were discovered in 2016.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Internally, the library is referred to as libstagefright.[9]


  1. ^ "Stagefright: Everything you need to know about Google's Android megabug". 
  2. ^ a b c "How to Protect from StageFright Vulnerability". July 30, 2015. Retrieved July 31, 2015. 
  3. ^ a b Michael Rundle (July 27, 2015). "'Stagefright' Android bug is the 'worst ever discovered'". Wired. Retrieved July 28, 2015. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols (July 27, 2015). "Stagefright: Just how scary is it for Android users?". ZDNet. Retrieved July 28, 2015. 
  5. ^ a b c Alex Hern (July 28, 2015). "Stagefright: new Android vulnerability dubbed 'heartbleed for mobile'". The Guardian. Retrieved July 29, 2015. 
  6. ^ a b c d "Experts Found a Unicorn in the Heart of Android". July 27, 2015. Retrieved July 28, 2015. 
  7. ^ a b c Garret Wassermann (July 29, 2015). "Vulnerability Note VU#924951 – Android Stagefright contains multiple vulnerabilities". CERT. Retrieved July 31, 2015. 
  8. ^ "Android Interfaces: Media". May 8, 2015. Retrieved July 28, 2015. 
  9. ^ "platform/frameworks/av: media/libstagefright". July 28, 2015. Retrieved July 31, 2015. 
  10. ^ Mohit Kumar (July 27, 2015). "Simple Text Message to Hack Any Android Phone Remotely". Retrieved July 28, 2015. 
  11. ^ a b Robert Hackett (July 28, 2015). "Stagefright: Everything you need to know about Google's Android megabug". Fortune. Retrieved July 29, 2015. 
  12. ^ a b c "Stagefright: Vulnerability Details, Stagefright Detector tool released". August 5, 2015. Retrieved August 25, 2015. 
  13. ^ a b Jordan Gruskovnjak; Aaron Portnoy (August 13, 2015). "Stagefright: Mission Accomplished?". Retrieved October 8, 2015. 
  14. ^ Thomas Fox-Brewster (July 30, 2015). "Russian 'Zero Day' Hunter Has Android Stagefright Bugs Primed For One-Text Hacks". Forbes. Retrieved July 31, 2015. 
  15. ^ "Stagefright: Scary Code in the Heart of Android". August 21, 2015. Retrieved August 25, 2015. 
  16. ^ "Stagefright: Scary Code in the Heart of Android". 7 August 2015. Retrieved August 25, 2015. 
  17. ^ a b "ZHA – Accelerating Roll-out of Security Patches". August 1, 2015. Retrieved August 25, 2015. 
  18. ^ Joshua J. Drake (May 5, 2015). "Change Ie93b3038: Prevent reading past the end of the buffer in 3GPP". Retrieved August 25, 2015. 
  19. ^ Eric Ravenscraft (August 7, 2015). "Stagefright Detector Detects if Your Phone Is Vulnerable to Stagefright". Retrieved August 25, 2015. 
  20. ^ "CyanogenMod: Recent Stagefright issues". July 27, 2015. Retrieved July 28, 2015. 
  21. ^ Ryan Whitwam (August 3, 2015). "Sprint's Galaxy Note 4 Gets Android 5.1.1 Update With Stagefright Vulnerability Fix". Retrieved August 5, 2015. 
  22. ^
  23. ^ "Buffer overflow and out-of-bounds read while parsing MP4 video metadata". May 12, 2015. Retrieved July 28, 2015. 
  24. ^ Thomas Fox-Brewster (July 27, 2015). "Stagefright: It Only Takes One Text To Hack 950 Million Android Phones". Forbes. Retrieved July 28, 2015. 
  25. ^ "More Stagefright". August 13, 2015. Retrieved August 15, 2015. 
  26. ^ "Stagefright 2.0 Vulnerabilities Affect 1 Billion Android Devices". October 1, 2015. Retrieved October 1, 2015. 
  27. ^ Jamie Lendino (July 27, 2015). "950M phones at risk for 'Stagefright' text exploit thanks to Android fragmentation". Retrieved July 31, 2015. 
  28. ^ Jordan Minor (July 30, 2015). "There's (Almost) Nothing You Can Do About Stagefright". PC Magazine. Retrieved July 31, 2015. 
  29. ^ Cooper Quintin (July 31, 2015). "StageFright: Android's Heart of Darkness". Electronic Frontier Foundation. Retrieved August 2, 2015. 
  30. ^ Phil Nickinson (July 27, 2015). "The 'Stagefright' exploit: What you need to know". Android Central. Retrieved July 29, 2015. 
  31. ^ Lucian Armasu (August 6, 2015). "Zimperium Releases Stagefright Vulnerability Detector". Tom's Hardware. Retrieved August 25, 2015. 
  32. ^ Joshua Drake (August 5, 2015). "Stagefright: Scary Code in the Heart of Android – Researching Android Multimedia Framework Security" (PDF). pp. 31–39. Retrieved August 25, 2015. 
  33. ^ Jon Oberheide (July 16, 2012). "Exploit Mitigations in Android Jelly Bean 4.1". Retrieved July 31, 2015. 
  34. ^ Michael Crider (July 28, 2015). "Google Promises a Stagefright Security Update For Nexus Devices Starting Next Week". Retrieved July 31, 2015. 

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