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Android RSSI Broadcast Information Disclosure

Android RSSI Broadcast Information Disclosure
Posted Nov 13, 2018
Authored by Yakov Shafranovich, Vilius Kraujutis | Site wwws.nightwatchcybersecurity.com

Android OS suffers from a sensitive data exposure vulnerability in its RSSI broadcasts.

tags | exploit, info disclosure
advisories | CVE-2018-9581
MD5 | a26217d9d0c12d9ab358f22208fabe78

Android RSSI Broadcast Information Disclosure

Change Mirror Download
[Blog post here:

[NOTE: This bug is part of a series of three related Android bugs with
the same root cause: CVE-2018-9489, CVE-2018-9581 and CVE-2018-15835.
A presentation covering all three bugs was given at BSides DE in the
fall of 2018.]


System broadcasts by the Android operating system expose WiFi signal
strength information (RSSI). Any application on the device can capture
this information without additional permissions. Rogue applications
can potentially use this information for indoor positioning in order
to locate or track users within a small area near the WiFi router.
Same issue also applies to the underlying Android API, although an
additional permission is required.

All versions of Android are believed to be affected. The vendor
(Google) has not yet fixed this issue, however on Android 9 / P one of
the two broadcast types is no longer revealing sensitive data (as part
of the fix for CVE-2018-9489). The vendor assigned CVE-2018-9581 to
track this issue. Further research is also recommended to see whether
this is being exploited in the wild.


Android is an open source operating system developed by Google for
mobile phones and tablets. It is estimated that over two billion
devices exist worldwide running Android. Applications on Android are
usually segregated by the OS from each other and the OS itself.
However, interaction between processes and/or the OS is still possible
via several mechanisms.

In particular, Android provides the use of aIntentsa as one of the
ways for inter-process communication. A broadcast using an aIntenta
allows an application or the OS to send a message system-wide which
can be listened to by other applications. While functionality exists
to restrict who is allowed to read such messages, application
developers often neglect to implement these restrictions properly or
mask sensitive data. This leads to a common vulnerability within
Android applications where a malicious application running on the same
device can spy on and capture messages being broadcast by other

Another security mechanism present in the Android is permissions.
These are safeguards designed to protect the privacy of users.
Applications must explicitly request access to certain information or
features via a special auses-permissiona tag in the application
manifest (aAndroidManifest.xmla). Depending on the type of permission
(anormala, adangerousa, etca) the OS may display the permission
information to the user during installation, or may prompt again
during run-time. Some permissions can only be used by system
applications and cannot be used by regular developers.


The Android OS broadcasts the WiFi strength value (RSSI) system-wide
on a regular basis. No special permission is needed to access this
information. The RSSI values represent the relative strength of the
signal being received by the device (higher = stronger) but are not
directly correlated to the actual physical signal strength (dBm). This
is exposed via two separate intents (aandroid.net.wifi.STATE_CHANGEa
prior to Android 9; and aandroid.net.wifi.RSSI_CHANGEDa in all
versions of Android).

While applications can also access this information via the
WifiManager, this normall requires the aACCESS_WIFI_STATEa permission
in the application manifest. For the WiFi RTT feature that is new to
Android 9 and is used for similar geolocation, the
aACCESS_FINE_LOCATIONa is required. But, when listening for system
broadcasts, no such permissions are required allowing applications to
capture this information without the knowledge of the user.

There are two separate security issues present:
1. RSSI values are available via broadcasts, bypassing the permission
check normally required (aACCESS_WIFI_STATEa).
2. RSSI values, via broadcasts or WifiManager can be used for indoor
position without the special location permission.


For Android device users, you can replicate these issues as follows:
1. Install the aInternal Broadcasts Monitora application developed by
Vilius Kraujutis from Google Play.
2. Open the application and tap aStarta to monitor broadcasts.
3. Observe system broadcasts, specifically
aandroid.net.wifi.STATE_CHANGEa (prior to Android 9) and
aandroid.net.wifi.RSSI_CHANGEDa (all versions).


To replicate this in code, create a Broadcast receiver and register it
to receive the actions aandroid.net.wifi.STATE_CHANGEa (Android
version v8.1 and below only) and aandroid.net.wifi.RSSI_CHANGEDa.

Sample code appears below:

public class MainActivity extends Activity {
public void onCreate(Bundle state) {
IntentFilter filter = new IntentFilter();
registerReceiver(receiver, filter);

BroadcastReceiver receiver = new BroadcastReceiver() {
public void onReceive(Context context, Intent intent) {


Our test used the following devices:
- Pixel 2, running Android 8.1.0, patch level July 2018
- Nexus 6P, running Android 8.1.0, patch level July 2018
- Moto G4, running Android 7.0, patch level April 2018
- Kindle Fire HD (8 gen), running Fire OS 5.6.10, which is forked from
Android 5.1.1, updated April 2018
- Router used was ASUS RT-N56U running the latest firmware
(We included the Kindle Fire to show that forks of Android inherit
this functionality)

The following steps were performed:
1. Install Broadcast Monitor app.
2. Put the phone into airplane mode.
3. Walk into the room.
4. Turn off airplane mode (to trigger the RSSI broadcasts).
5. Get the RSSI values from the following broadcasts:
- android.net.wifi.RSSI_CHANGE - newRssi value
- android.net.wifi.STATE_CHANGE - networkInfo / RSSI

Repeat steps 3-4 for each room.

Results of the testing cleared showed that each room had a unique
range of RSSI values when using a particular device.


The vendor (Google) classified this issue as Moderate and assigned
CVE-2018-9581 to track this issue. No fix is available yet, however on
Android 9 / P one of the two broadcast types
("android.net.wifi.STATE_CHANGE") is no longer revealing sensitive
data (as part of the fix for CVE-2018-9489). It is unknown if this
issue is being exploited in the wild.


Android ID # 111698366
CVE ID: CVE-2018-9581
Google Bug # 111662293
GitHub: Internal Broadcasts Monitor -
Presentation given at BSides DE:


We want to thank Vilius Kraujutis for developing the Internal
Broadcasts Monitor application and making the source code available in

We would like to thank multiple academic researchers who have
previously published research locating users via RSSI values,
including the following papers:
- "Algorithms for Location Estimation Based on RSSI Sampling." (2008);
Papamanthou C., Preparata F.P., Tamassia R.; In: Fekete S.P. (eds)
Algorithmic Aspects of Wireless Sensor Networks. ALGOSENSORS 2008.
Lecture Notes in Computer Science, vol 5389. Springer, Berlin,
- "Comparison of RSSI techniques in Wireless Indoor Geolocation,"
(2012); G. A. Naik, M. P. Khedekar, M. Krishnamoorthy, S. D. Patil and
COMMUNICATION SYSTEMS, Durgapur, 2012, pp. 1-5.
- "Theoretical facts on RSSI-based geolocation,"; (2012) J. S. Picard
and A. J. Weiss; 2012 IEEE 27th Convention of Electrical and
Electronics Engineers in Israel, Eilat, 2012, pp. 1-5.
- "Adversarial WiFi Sensinga (2018); Yanzi Zhu, et al; arXiv:1810.10109;

This advisory was written by Yakov Shafranovich.


2018-03-28: Initial report submitted to the vendor re: CVE-2018-9489
2018-07-19: Separate report created for this issue as per vendor
request; testing results provided
2018-07-20: Vendor response received - issue under investigation
2018-08-09: Provided results of Android 9 testing
2018-08-14: Draft advisory provided for review
2018-08-28: Asking about disclosure
2018-09-14: Vendor response receiving, still pending
2018-09-19: Pinged vendor
2018-09-21: Vendor response receiving, issue under investigation
2018-10-14: Notified vendor about upcoming talk
2018-10-15: Vendor response receiving, issue under investigation
2018-10-25: Asking for CVE assignment
2018-10-30: Asked again about CVE assignment
2018-11-01: Asked MITRE for CVE assigment
2018-11-05: CVE assigned by the vendor, notified MITRE
2018-11-06: Slides provided for review
2018-11-09: Public disclosure during a presentation at BSides DE
2018-11-11: Advisory published


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