November 19, 2015

Smartphone blues

The sad saga of my messed up smartphone continues. I have tried deleting every possible file from it that I’ve installed using normal means without success and the problems have persisted, so much so that I’ve ‘rooted’ the phone, a process that gives access to the ‘deeper’ operating system files. This gives much more power to delete files that would otherwise be inaccessible and do other things that I’m not interested in but, in the process, also voids any warranty that might have applied.

This allowed me to get rid of the obvious offenders but still the phone kept intermittently hanging and then throwing up an ad for, for example, some weird game or other. In my desperation to delete ‘suspicious’ files I’ve also succeeded in deleting some innocent ones that I thought would be recoverable by doing a ‘factory reset’ but weren’t, with the result that the phone has now lost some of its useful features eg one-touch wake-up, so I now have even more reason to be annoyed.

Another side-effect of the malware is that it seems to have had an impact on the phone’s digital connection, probably because it’s grabbing the connection for its own use to download ads etc. But for whatever reason, the system has slowed to a snail’s pace and I’ve even found it impossible, for example, to download and reinstall the apps that were deleted by ‘factory resetting’ from the Google apps store.

And still the intermittent hanging and ad display have continued, so it appears that whoever dropped the malware onto the phone has probably used a technique called ‘ghosting’ that uses an Android vulnerability and allows the perpetrator to access the system’s read only memory (ROM), which the ordinary user (ie me) cannot access in order to remove the offending code. Or there’s another possibility.

Maybe the phone was shipped from China with the malware already installed and programmed to ‘wake up’ after a certain period of time. If so, there’s probably no way of knowing for sure and speculation is useless.

So it appears that the malware is within the system’s ROM, which leaves only one option, or two if you include binning the phone, which naturally I don’t want to do. This is to ‘flash’ the phone’s ROM with a new operating system.

This is a process that’s fraught with danger and it’s not unusual to end up with a ‘bricked’ phone that’s only good enough to use as a doorstop. So as I’m locked into a 2-year contract with the French network operator Free and wanted the phone for its data connection in the first place, I reluctantly ordered a replacement this afternoon from a different supplier in the hope that lightening won’t strike twice in the same place.

The replacement is also a dual-sim unit but will come with a 6″ screen this time, which I rejected last time as I thought it would be a bit too large to carry around. However, I don’t think that the size will make a great deal of difference while being carried in a belt pouch and I have found the 5″ screen a bit small for viewing photographs and videos.

So what of my existing ‘messed up’ phone? As today was a rather damp and bleak ‘stay indoors day’, not only have I spent the day researching and learning about all this stuff, which is totally new to me, but I’ve also downloaded the software necessary to back up, flash and restore Android phone ROMs. But I’ll hold fire on doing it for the time being while the phone is still functioning, and probably until the replacement arrives.

Then will be the time to flash its ROM with the hopeful result that it will in effect become a new, different phone with a clean operating system. If that is the case I’ll then have the choice of keeping it as a ‘spare’ or, better still, selling it, because as Victor said at dinner last night, there aren’t that many unlocked dual sim phones around, and what there are are pretty expensive.

I’ll have to wait and see, but I’ve just noticed that the download of the replacement ‘customised ROM’ has just completed. Now I’ll have to be patient.