Entries Tagged "Android"

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Mobile Malware Is Increasing

According to a report by Juniper, mobile malware is increasing dramatically.

In 2011, we saw unprecedented growth of mobile malware attacks with a 155 percent increase across all platforms. Most noteworthy was the dramatic growth in Android Malware from roughly 400 samples in June to over 13,000 samples by the end of 2011. This amounts to a cumulative increase of 3,325 percent. Notable in these findings is a significant number of malware samples obtained from third-party applications stores, which do not enjoy the benefit or protection from Google’s newly announced Android Market scanning techniques.

We also observed a new level of sophistication of many attacks. Malware writers used new and novel ways to exploit vulnerabilities. 2011 saw malware like Droid KungFu, which used encrypted payloads to avoid detection and Droid Dream, which cleverly disguised itself as a legitimate application, are a sign of things to come.

News story.

I don’t think this is surprising at all. Mobile is the new platform. Mobile is a very intimate platform. It’s where the attackers are going to go.

Posted on February 23, 2012 at 6:27 AMView Comments

Carrier IQ Spyware

Spyware on many smart phones monitors your every action, including collecting individual keystrokes. The company that makes and runs this software on behalf of different carriers, Carrier IQ, freaked when a security researcher outed them. It initially claimed it didn’t monitor keystrokes—an easily refuted lie—and threatened to sue the researcher. It took EFF getting involved to get the company to back down. (A good summary of the details is here. This is pretty good, too.)

Carrier IQ is reacting really badly here. Threatening the researcher was a panic reaction, but I think it’s still clinging to the notion that it can keep the details of what it does secret, or hide behind such statements such as:

Our customers select which metrics they need to gather based on their business need—such as network planning, customer care, device performance—within the bounds of the agreement they form with their end users.

Or hair-splitting denials it’s been giving to the press.

In response to some questions from PCMag, a Carrier IQ spokeswoman said “we count and summarize performance; we do not record keystrokes, capture screen shots, SMS, email, or record conversations.”

“Our software does not collect the content of messages,” she said.

How then does Carrier IQ explain the video posted by Trevor Eckhart, which showed an Android-based phone running Carrier IQ in the background and grabbing data like encrypted Google searches?

“While ‘security researchers’ have identified that we examine many aspects of a device, our software does not store or transmit what consumers view on their screen or type,” the spokeswoman said. “Just because every application on your phone reads the keyboard does not make every application a key-logging application. Our software measures specific performance metrics that help operators improve the customer experience.”

The spokeswoman said Carrier IQ would record the fact that a text message was sent correctly, for example, but the company “cannot record what the content of the SMS was.” Similarly, Carrier IQ records where you were when a call dropped, but cannot record the conversation, and can determine which applications drain battery life but cannot capture screen shots, she said.

Several things matter here: 1) what data the CarrerIQ app collects on the handset, 2) what data the CarrerIQ app routinely transmits to the carriers, and 3) what data can the CarrierIQ app transmit to the carrier if asked. Can the carrier enable the logging of everything in response to a request from the FBI? We have no idea.

Expect this story to unfold considerably in the coming weeks. Everyone is pointing fingers of blame at everyone else, and Sen. Franken has asked the various companies involved for details.

One more detail is worth mentioning. Apple announced it no longer uses CarrierIQ in iOS5. I’m sure this means that they have their own surveillance software running, not that they’re no longer conducting surveillance on their users.

EDITED TO ADD (12/14): This is an excellent round-up of everything known about CarrierIQ.

Posted on December 5, 2011 at 6:05 AMView Comments

Android Malware

The Android platform is where the malware action is:

What happens when anyone can develop and publish an application to the Android Market? A 472% increase in Android malware samples since July 2011. These days, it seems all you need is a developer account, that is relatively easy to anonymize, pay $25 and you can post your applications.

[…]

In addition to an increase in the volume, the attackers continue to become more sophisticated in the malware they write. For instance, in the early spring, we began seeing Android malware that was capable of leveraging one of several platform vulnerabilities that allowed malware to gain root access on the device, in the background, and then install additional packages to the device to extend the functionality of the malware. Today, just about every piece of malware that is released contains this capability, simply because the vulnerabilities remain prevalent in nearly 90% of Android devices being carried around today.

I believe that smart phones are going to become the primary platform of attack for cybercriminals in the coming years. As the phones become more integrated into people’s lives—smart phone banking, electronic wallets—they’re simply going to become the most valuable device for criminals to go after. And I don’t believe the iPhone will be more secure because of Apple’s rigid policies for the app store.

EDITED TO ADD (11/26): This article is a good debunking of the data I quoted above. And also this:

“A virus of the traditional kind is possible, but not probable. The barriers to spreading such a program from phone to phone are large and difficult enough to traverse when you have legitimate access to the phone, but this isn’t Independence Day, a virus that might work on one device won’t magically spread to the other.”

DiBona is right. While some malware and viruses have tried to make use of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi radios to hop from device to device, it simply doesn’t happen the way security companies want you to think it does.

Of course he’s right. Malware on portable devices isn’t going to look or act the same way as malware on traditional computers. It isn’t going to spread from phone to phone. I’m more worried about Trojans, either on legitimate or illegitimate apps, malware embedded in webpages, fake updates, and so on. A lot of this will involve social engineering the user, but I don’t see that as much of a problem.

But I do see mobile devices as the new target of choice. And I worry much more about privacy violations. Your phone knows your location. Your phone knows who you talk to and—with a recorder—what you say. And when your phone becomes your digital wallet, your phone is going to know a lot more intimate things about you. All of this will be useful to both criminals and marketers, and we’re going to see all sorts of illegal and quasi-legal ways both of those groups will go after that information.

And securing those devices is going to be hard, because we don’t have the same low-level access to these devices we have with computers.

Anti-virus companies are using FUD to sell their products, but there are real risks here. And the time to start figuring out how to solve them is now.

Posted on November 25, 2011 at 6:06 AMView Comments

Smartphone Keystroke Logging Using the Motion Sensor

Clever:

“When the user types on the soft keyboard on her smartphone (especially when she holds her phone by hand rather than placing it on a fixed surface), the phone vibrates. We discover that keystroke vibration on touch screens are highly correlated to the keys being typed.”

Applications like TouchLogger could be significant because they bypass protections built into both Android and Apple’s competing iOS that prevent a program from reading keystrokes unless it’s active and receives focus from the screen. It was designed to work on an HTC Evo 4G smartphone. It had an accuracy rate of more than 70 percent of the input typed into the number-only soft keyboard of the device. The app worked by using the phone’s accelerometer to gauge the motion of the device each time a soft key was pressed.

Paper here. More articles.

Posted on August 23, 2011 at 2:09 PMView Comments

Protecting Private Information on Smart Phones

AppFence is a technology—with a working prototype—that protects personal information on smart phones. It does this by either substituting innocuous information in place of sensitive information or blocking attempts by the application to send the sensitive information over the network.

The significance of systems like AppFence is that they have the potential to change the balance of power in privacy between mobile application developers and users. Today, application developers get to choose what information an application will have access to, and the user faces a take-it-or-leave-it proposition: users must either grant all the permissions requested by the application developer or abandon installation. Take-it-or-leave it offers may make it easier for applications to obtain access to information that users don’t want applications to have. Many applications take advantage of this to gain access to users’ device identifiers and location for behavioral tracking and advertising. Systems like AppFence could make it harder for applications to access these types of information without more explicit consent and cooperation from users.

The problem is that the mobile OS providers might not like AppFence. Google probably doesn’t care, but Apple is one of the biggest consumers of iPhone personal information. Right now, the prototype only works on Android, because it requires flashing the phone. In theory, the technology can be made to work on any mobile OS, but good luck getting Apple to agree to it.

Posted on June 24, 2011 at 6:37 AMView Comments

Trojan Steals Credit Card Numbers

It’s only a proof of concept, but it’s scary nonetheless. It’s a Trojan for Android phones that looks for credit-card numbers, either typed or spoken, and relays them back to its controller.

Software released for Android devices has to request permissions for each system function it accesses—with apps commonly requesting access to the network, phone call functionality, internal and external storage devices, and miscellaneous hardware functions such as the backlight, LED, or microphone. These requests are grouped into categories and presented to the user at the point of installation—helping to minimise the chance of a Trojan slipping by.

Soundminer takes a novel approach to these restrictions, by only requesting access to ‘Phone calls,’ to read phone state and identity, ‘Your personal information,’ to read contact data, and ‘Hardware controls’ to record audio—none of which will ring alarm bells if the app is marketed as a voice recording tool.

Research paper here. YouTube demo. Another blog post. Research paper; section 7.2 describes some defenses, but I’m not really impressed by any of them.

Posted on January 29, 2011 at 7:45 AMView Comments

Security in 2020

There’s really no such thing as security in the abstract. Security can only be defined in relation to something else. You’re secure from something or against something. In the next 10 years, the traditional definition of IT security—­that it protects you from hackers, criminals, and other bad guys—­will undergo a radical shift. Instead of protecting you from the bad guys, it will increasingly protect businesses and their business models from you.

Ten years ago, the big conceptual change in IT security was deperimeterization. A wordlike grouping of 18 letters with both a prefix and a suffix, it has to be the ugliest word our industry invented. The concept, though—­the dissolution of the strict boundaries between the internal and external network—­was both real and important.

There’s more deperimeterization today than there ever was. Customer and partner access, guest access, outsourced e-mail, VPNs; to the extent there is an organizational network boundary, it’s so full of holes that it’s sometimes easier to pretend it isn’t there. The most important change, though, is conceptual. We used to think of a network as a fortress, with the good guys on the inside and the bad guys on the outside, and walls and gates and guards to ensure that only the good guys got inside. Modern networks are more like cities, dynamic and complex entities with many different boundaries within them. The access, authorization, and trust relationships are even more complicated.

Today, two other conceptual changes matter. The first is consumerization. Another ponderous invented word, it’s the idea that consumers get the cool new gadgets first, and demand to do their work on them. Employees already have their laptops configured just the way they like them, and they don’t want another one just for getting through the corporate VPN. They’re already reading their mail on their BlackBerrys or iPads. They already have a home computer, and it’s cooler than the standard issue IT department machine. Network administrators are increasingly losing control over clients.

This trend will only increase. Consumer devices will become trendier, cheaper, and more integrated; and younger people are already used to using their own stuff on their school networks. It’s a recapitulation of the PC revolution. The centralized computer center concept was shaken by people buying PCs to run VisiCalc; now it’s iPads and Android smart phones.

The second conceptual change comes from cloud computing: our increasing tendency to store our data elsewhere. Call it decentralization: our email, photos, books, music, and documents are stored somewhere, and accessible to us through our consumer devices. The younger you are, the more you expect to get your digital stuff on the closest screen available. This is an important trend, because it signals the end of the hardware and operating system battles we’ve all lived with. Windows vs. Mac doesn’t matter when all you need is a web browser. Computers become temporary; user backup becomes irrelevant. It’s all out there somewhere—­and users are increasingly losing control over their data.

During the next 10 years, three new conceptual changes will emerge, two of which we can already see the beginnings of. The first I’ll call deconcentration. The general-purpose computer is dying and being replaced by special-purpose devices. Some of them, like the iPhone, seem general purpose but are strictly controlled by their providers. Others, like Internet-enabled game machines or digital cameras, are truly special purpose. In 10 years, most computers will be small, specialized, and ubiquitous.

Even on what are ostensibly general-purpose devices, we’re seeing more special-purpose applications. Sure, you could use the iPhone’s web browser to access the New York Times website, but it’s much easier to use the NYT’s special iPhone app. As computers become smaller and cheaper, this trend will only continue. It’ll be easier to use special-purpose hardware and software. And companies, wanting more control over their users’ experience, will push this trend.

The second is decustomerization—­now I get to invent the really ugly words­—the idea that we get more of our IT functionality without any business relation­ship. We’re all part of this trend: every search engine gives away its services in exchange for the ability to advertise. It’s not just Google and Bing; most webmail and social networking sites offer free basic service in exchange for advertising, possibly with premium services for money. Most websites, even useful ones that take the place of client software, are free; they are either run altruistically or to facilitate advertising.

Soon it will be hardware. In 1999, Internet startup FreePC tried to make money by giving away computers in exchange for the ability to monitor users’ surfing and purchasing habits. The company failed, but computers have only gotten cheaper since then. It won’t be long before giving away netbooks in exchange for advertising will be a viable business. Or giving away digital cameras. Already there are companies that give away long-distance minutes in exchange for advertising. Free cell phones aren’t far off. Of course, not all IT hardware will be free. Some of the new cool hardware will cost too much to be free, and there will always be a need for concentrated computing power close to the user­—game systems are an obvious example—­but those will be the exception. Where the hardware costs too much to just give away, however, we’ll see free or highly subsidized hardware in exchange for locked-in service; that’s already the way cell phones are sold.

This is important because it destroys what’s left of the normal business rela­tionship between IT companies and their users. We’re not Google’s customers; we’re Google’s product that they sell to their customers. It’s a three-way relation­ship: us, the IT service provider, and the advertiser or data buyer. And as these noncustomer IT relationships proliferate, we’ll see more IT companies treating us as products. If I buy a Dell computer, then I’m obviously a Dell customer; but if I get a Dell computer for free in exchange for access to my life, it’s much less obvious whom I’m entering a business relationship with. Facebook’s continual ratcheting down of user privacy in order to satisfy its actual customers­—the advertisers—and enhance its revenue is just a hint of what’s to come.

The third conceptual change I’ve termed depersonization: computing that removes the user, either partially or entirely. Expect to see more software agents: programs that do things on your behalf, such as prioritize your email based on your observed preferences or send you personalized sales announcements based on your past behavior. The “people who liked this also liked” feature on many retail websites is just the beginning. A website that alerts you if a plane ticket to your favorite destination drops below a certain price is simplistic but useful, and some sites already offer this functionality. Ten years won’t be enough time to solve the serious artificial intelligence problems required to fully real­ize intelligent agents, but the agents of that time will be both sophisticated and commonplace, and they’ll need less direct input from you.

Similarly, connecting objects to the Internet will soon be cheap enough to be viable. There’s already considerable research into Internet-enabled medical devices, smart power grids that communicate with smart phones, and networked automobiles. Nike sneakers can already communicate with your iPhone. Your phone already tells the network where you are. Internet-enabled appliances are already in limited use, but soon they will be the norm. Businesses will acquire smart HVAC units, smart elevators, and smart inventory systems. And, as short-range communications­—like RFID and Bluetooth—become cheaper, everything becomes smart.

The “Internet of things” won’t need you to communicate. The smart appliances in your smart home will talk directly to the power company. Your smart car will talk to road sensors and, eventually, other cars. Your clothes will talk to your dry cleaner. Your phone will talk to vending machines; they already do in some countries. The ramifications of this are hard to imagine; it’s likely to be weirder and less orderly than the contemporary press describes it. But certainly smart objects will be talking about you, and you probably won’t have much control over what they’re saying.

One old trend: deperimeterization. Two current trends: consumerization and decentralization. Three future trends: deconcentration, decustomerization, and depersonization. That’s IT in 2020—­it’s not under your control, it’s doing things without your knowledge and consent, and it’s not necessarily acting in your best interests. And this is how things will be when they’re working as they’re intended to work; I haven’t even started talking about the bad guys yet.

That’s because IT security in 2020 will be less about protecting you from traditional bad guys, and more about protecting corporate business models from you. Deperimeterization assumes everyone is untrusted until proven otherwise. Consumerization requires networks to assume all user devices are untrustworthy until proven otherwise. Decentralization and deconcentration won’t work if you’re able to hack the devices to run unauthorized software or access unauthorized data. Deconsumerization won’t be viable unless you’re unable to bypass the ads, or whatever the vendor uses to monetize you. And depersonization requires the autonomous devices to be, well, autonomous.

In 2020—­10 years from now­—Moore’s Law predicts that computers will be 100 times more powerful. That’ll change things in ways we can’t know, but we do know that human nature never changes. Cory Doctorow rightly pointed out that all complex ecosystems have parasites. Society’s traditional parasites are criminals, but a broader definition makes more sense here. As we users lose control of those systems and IT providers gain control for their own purposes, the definition of “parasite” will shift. Whether they’re criminals trying to drain your bank account, movie watchers trying to bypass whatever copy protection studios are using to protect their profits, or Facebook users trying to use the service without giving up their privacy or being forced to watch ads, parasites will continue to try to take advantage of IT systems. They’ll exist, just as they always have existed, and­ like today­ security is going to have a hard time keeping up with them.

Welcome to the future. Companies will use technical security measures, backed up by legal security measures, to protect their business models. And unless you’re a model user, the parasite will be you.

This essay was originally written as a foreword to Security 2020, by Doug Howard and Kevin Prince.

Posted on December 16, 2010 at 6:27 AMView Comments

Security Analysis of Smudges on Smart Phone Touch Screens

Smudge Attacks on Smartphone Touch Screens“:

Abstract: Touch screens are an increasingly common feature on personal computing devices, especially smartphones, where size and user interface advantages accrue from consolidating multiple hardware components (keyboard, number pad, etc.) into a single software definable user interface. Oily residues, or smudges, on the touch screen surface, are one side effect of touches from which frequently used patterns such as a graphical password might be inferred.

In this paper we examine the feasibility of such smudge attacks on touch screens for smartphones, and focus our analysis on the Android password pattern. We first investigate the conditions (e.g., lighting and camera orientation) under which smudges are easily extracted. In the vast majority of settings, partial or complete patterns are easily retrieved. We also emulate usage situations that interfere with pattern identification, and show that pattern smudges continue to be recognizable. Finally, we provide a preliminary analysis of applying the information learned in a smudge attack to guessing an Android password pattern.

Reminds me of similar attacks on alarm and lock keypads.

Posted on August 12, 2010 at 6:48 AMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.