Google researchers have indications that the Israeli hacking company NSO has actively exploited a serious vulnerability in Android. Knowledge about the bug would have been used or sold by the company, reports a researcher from Google's Project Zero research team.

NSO sells espionage software to governments, officially to detect terrorism, among other things. The company is controversial because research has shown that the software has been used against activists, journalists and lawyers, including in countries that are not so close to human rights.

Android devices can be completely taken over with the relevant vulnerability. A total of at least eighteen smartphones are vulnerable, including the Samsung S7, S8 and S9 and the Huawei P20.

The phone can become infected when the user installs a malicious app or via a web browser. In the latter case, the attacker must abuse a second vulnerability.

It is unclear when the manufacturers of the affected smartphones will make an update available to remove the vulnerability. The chance that owners of these devices fall victim is small, because NSO usually focuses on specific targets. Nevertheless, users are advised to always install security updates as quickly as possible.

See also: This is how you keep your smartphone free of rogue software