It wasn’t Christmas or Arbitrary Day, but there it was my new toy impeccably wrapped and waiting: my new Android cell phone! I was so excited and I carefully peeled back the packing and wrapping layers. My fingers tingled with delight to reveal my new HTC Magic. It was gleaming white with sharp graphics and the promise of storing my life in it; my more organized and productive life. I was able to get over the initial fumbling with the OS and the touch screen over a few weeks and began using my new phone. I filled it with contact information like emails, phone numbers, photos and I transitioned all my contacts from my old phone to the new super shiny one.
My big troubles with the operating system on my phone began during a job interview, one with the potential for a lot of money, I might add. The interviewer was horrible, so I wasn’t really expecting a call back for the job. Although for the money, I might have worked there anyways. I’m in IT. I sold my soul years ago, but I digress. I discovered the hard way that my phone had been automatically routing all calls to my voice mail, while at the same time shutting off the notifications for new voice mails or missed calls. Maybe it started a couple of days after the interview. It must have been an unannounced feature called “Silence,” offering peace of mind by never allowing my phone to ring. To add to the complexity of my issue, my cell phone provider automatically erases unsaved voice mail messages after three days. I searched through what I thought was everywhere in the phone to re-enable notification of incoming calls, but I couldn’t find any setting. I figured, “Google, I bought your phone; feed me baby.” I must mention under duress, I didn’t check with my spouse. But that’s another story.
My Heat Crumbling
Within 30 minutes I found two Android forum posts with similar issues. One said do a hard reset. The other said to install a shortcut program called Any Cut and to re-run the initial phone setup. I chose the “run setup” again” route as a couple of people posted that even after the hard reset, the problem came back. The Any Cut solution post said the issue was due to a corrupt configuration file that could only be corrected if you have root level access or re-run setup. I didn’t’ have root level access so I re-ran setup. This is where things began to get a little strange. I went through setup again, but made a fatal mistake! I entered the wrong password for my Gmail account once. Once, only one little itsy bitsy, teenie weenie problem, I got the Android version of the blue screen of death, “Waiting for Sync. Your email will appear shortly.” Everything with the Android OS is based on your Gmail credentials. You don’t need a SIM card for the phone to work, but you must have a Gmail account. Funny thing though… if you run setup again and you enter the wrong credential, you are locked out of a great majority of features on the phone. The only fix per Google; hard reset. Really? Enter your credentials wrong just once and you have to wipe the phone?
What worked and didn’t after invalid credentials presented
My contacts were gone. No contacts listed. I was left with a barren message: “You don’t have any contacts to display. Go to your menu and Edit Sync Group.” I suddenly felt very lonely. My entire call log was fully available, just no names associated with the phone numbers. As I cleared out my log, all numbers incoming or outgoing were listed with dates, times, call length, call status of missed calls if applicable and call direction. I guess root has the contacts properties but any user has the call log. No phone numbers were stored on my SIM by default with Android. There is no menu to force save your contacts to the SIM. The only SIM contacts the Android OS phone was willing to import from my SIM were the cell provider’s default contacts. I am not one to memorize random numbers. I theorize the human brain has a maximum of short and long term memory and there is no use adding useless information. Hence, some contact details I didn’t memorize. I went to check if my SMS messages were available, theorizing they may be because I could see my call log. I thought maybe I could rebuild my contact list based on the content of the messages. All of my SMS messages were available but with no names associated with them. I had never cleared my SMS log, so all messages incoming and outgoing were retained and available from the inception of the phone service. My meet up, greet up, lovely, or angry sexy time related flipping SMS messages to said spouse or others were still available. Everything! Frack man. I could receive Google Talk chats inbound via my regular Gmail account name and could respond only to those Google Talk messages. Yet, I was not logged into the phone with valid credentials. I tried the built in Chrome browser. My heart sunk. When I opened my browser, it took me to my domain Google mobile page. I could not access my applications like email unless I put in my business domain credentials, luckily. Could this mean that no matter if you are logged into the phone with valid credentials or not, the former person’s home page, browsing history (yes, complete from the last time I dumped cache), and possible credentials for services are still retained somewhere on the phone? That is already a great deal of information about a person to be essentially accessible to anyone logged into the phone or not. The Android Market was fully accessible. At that point I should have been logged out of the Android Market. I hadn’t bought an application. This would allow access to the Google pay system associated with my <email@example.com> regardless if I were logged in as <firstname.lastname@example.org> or not. Per the Android release notes for 1.6, access to the market should be restricted if you’re not logged into the phone with a valid Gmail account. This would make sense, as this allows full access to the pay system. I guess the release notes need some correcting. The reason the market was accessible is due to one or more of my applications already in the notification bar requiring updates. Going directly from the notifications bar, I could access the market, update my software and download any software. This appears to override the need for credentials. About a week went by and I woke up one morning to my phone not really working OS-wise. The Android Market wouldn’t let me in and the phone now wanted me to log into Gmail. I used my trusty Any Cut and I ran the setup wizard again. I tried my credentials again and got the same message: “waiting for sync: this may take up to 5 minutes.”
A Different Tactic
I decided to create another Gmail account. This time is was <sameusername>email@example.com. I logged into the phone OS and the built-in browser showed via Google search that I was logged in as <sameusername>firstname.lastname@example.org. I could use the Android Market again. I was happy at this point, until I got an incoming Goggle Chat from my spouse. I had created the new account not more than 15 minutes prior to the incoming chat so no one knew about it yet. I answered back, “What Gmail account did you send this to?” The response, “<email@example.com> – the only account I know about.” I was, at this point, logged into the phone but as <sameusername>firstname.lastname@example.org. I had full access to <email@example.com> chats and could talk back and forth with my Gmail contacts logged in as someone else. My Chrome home page to me to my <firstname.lastname@example.org> Google application home page. If I went to a Google search via the built in browser at the bottom of the page, it showed I was logged in as <sameusername>email@example.com. No contacts were listed still, but my entire call log was available. All browsing history since the last dump remained. I could not use the built-in Gmail application, but I could use the Chrome browser to navigate to both accounts.
All Was Never What It Seemed
My spouse, a “you should have asked me – I am a master programmer and can fix almost anything,” was right. I handed my phone over because it was still unable to receive incoming phone calls. Little did I know this setting is in the “main settings,” “call settings,” “GSM call settings,” “additional GSM only call settings,” “call forwarding,” then finally “always forward with my international voice mail phone number built in by default. Otherwise known as an infinite loop of insanity.
You don’t need root; you don’t really need to “hack” anything. On any 1.6 (probably beyond too) version of an Android OS cello phone, force a re-run of setup, enter the wrong credentials on purpose, and you have sweet access to the previous settings and plenty of private information to keep you naughty. I have heard the claim “well, not in newer versions.” Then I suggest Google force their manufacturers to maintain the OS. If the issue isn’t fixed, consumers with version 1.6 are stuck with a huge gaping security hole. “New” Android Tablet PCs are shipping with the 1.6 version to unsuspecting users. All information stored on an insecure phone OS is fair game, including your contact information. I agreed to the terms and conditions, but my contacts weren’t given that option. My journey ends here. An affair with a phone OS that broke heart, and is willing to leak my data to anyone.
This is a repost from the original by the author from 2600 Magazine, Winter 2010-2011