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A new app security flaw makes your iPhone call numbers without asking

If you’re an iPhone user, you may want to be cautious about opening messages that contain phone numbers in the near future; they may cost you a lot of money. Developer Andrei Neculaesei notes that maliciously coded links in some apps will abuse the “tel” web handler to automatically make a phone call the moment you view a message. Potentially, an evildoer could force you to call an expensive toll number before you’ve had a chance to hang up. The exploit isn’t limited to any one app or developer, either. Facebook Messenger, Gmail and Google+ all fall prey to the attack, and it’s likely that other, less recognizable apps exhibit similar behavior. Apple’s Safari browser will ask you before starting a call, but FaceTime’s behavior lets you pull a similar stunt.

A security precaution skipped in mobile applications such as Facebook’s Messenger could be abused to make an expensive phone call at a victim’s expense, a developer contends. Phone numbers often appear as links on a mobile device. That is possible by using a Uniform Resource Identifier (URI) scheme called ”tel” to trigger a call. URI schemes are a large family of descriptions that can tell a computer where to go for a certain resource, such as launching a mail application when an email address is clicked. Andrei Neculaesei, a full-stack developer with the wireless streaming company Airtame in Copenhagen, contends there’s a risk in how most native mobile applications handle phone numbers. If a person clicks on a phone number within Apple’s mobile Safari browser, a pop-up asks if a person wants to proceed with a call. But many native mobile applications, including Facebook’s Messenger and Google’s +, will go ahead and make the call without asking, Neculaesei wrote on his blog. Mobile apps can be configured to display a warning, but on most applications it’s turned off, Neculaesei said via email on Thursday.

 

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