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Posts from the ‘Shoddy Security’ Category

26
Mar

Android ecosystem of pre-installed apps is a privacy and security mess

We’re shocked, shocked, shocked to… oh wait, actually, no, we’re not shocked at all by this:

An academic study that analyzed 82,501 apps that were pre-installed on 1,742 Android smartphones sold by 214 vendors concluded that users are woefully unaware of the huge security and privacy-related threats that come from pre-installed applications.

Researchers found that many of these pre-installed apps have access to very intrusive permissions out of the box, collect and send data about users to advertisers, and have security flaws that often remain unpatched.

On top of this, many pre-installed apps (also referred to as bloatware) can’t be removed, and also use third-party libraries that secretly collect user data from within benign-looking and innocently-named applications.

The study is, by far, one of the most complex endeavors of its kind, and included both an analysis of device firmware, app behavior, and the internet traffic the apps generated.

Android has been repeatedly shown to be a security nightmare. What’s particularly ironic and absurd is that many Android device manufacturers lock the bootloader to prevent rooting, which stops savvy users from getting rid of the bloatware and keeping their devices current.

And thanks to the demise of Windows Phone and BB10 (the latter of which heavily emphasized security), the only practical alternative is iOS. While iOS is superior to Android, it’s a shame that there’s no other game in town anymore. We appear to be stuck with a duopoly for the foreseeable future.

13
Mar

New Android adware found in 200 apps on Google Play

These issues just keep recurring… and recurring… and recurring…

Security researchers have found a new kind of mobile adware hidden in hundreds of Android apps, and downloaded more than 150 million times from Google Play.

The malware masquerading as an ad-serving platform, dubbed SimBad by researchers at security firm Check Point, infected more than 200 apps which, likely unbeknownst to the app developer, would open a backdoor to install additional malware as a way to outsmart Google’s app store scanning. Once installed, the downloaded malware also removes the app icon and persists in the background, loading each time the device boots up.

A list of the bad apps is available here.

Google has been pulling down these bad apps, but unfortunately, they will remain on the devices of anyone who installed them unless the user takes action to get rid of them. That’s what is so distressing about all of this. Google has failed to create a system for effectively vetting and screening apps before they appear on Google Play. And it seems no matter how many times security researchers find problems, Google isn’t embarrassed enough to change its ways.

4
Jan

Use Chromecast, get hacked

Another Google offering that is NOT secure.

Hackers have hijacked thousands of exposed Chromecast streaming devices to warn users of the latest security flaw to affect the device. But other security researchers say that the bug — if left unfixed — could be used for more disruptive attacks.

The culprits, known as Hacker Giraffe and J3ws3r, have become the latest person to figure out how to trick Google’s media streamer into playing any YouTube video they want — including videos that are custom-made. This time around, the hackers hijacked forced the affected Chromecasts to display a pop-up notice that’s viewable on the connected TV, warning the user that their misconfigured router is exposing their Chromecast and smart TV to hackers like themselves.

This is not the first Chromecast exploit, either.

Bishop Fox, a security consultancy firm, first found a hijack bug in 2014, not long after the Chromecast debuted. The researchers found that they could conduct a “deauth” attack that disconnects the Chromecast from the Wi-Fi network it was connected to, causing it to revert back to its out-of-the-box state, waiting for a device to tell it where to connect and what to stream. That’s when it can be hijacked and forced to stream whatever the hijacker wants. All of this can be done in an instant — as they did — with a touch of a button on a custom-built handheld remote.

Two years later, U.K. cybersecurity firm Pen Test Partners discovered that the Chromecast was still vulnerable to “deauth” attacks, making it easy to play content on a neighbor’s Chromecasts in just a few minutes.

Google claims it’s trying to fix the deauth bug. But it’s a four year old exploit. They have had years to fix it and they have failed.

The moral of the story: don’t use Chromecast and other woefully insecure Android products.

10
Dec

Google Plus suffers another security breach

Oops.

Google has now admitted that Google Plus has suffered another security failure, allowing the personal information of 52 million users to be accessed by third-party apps and developers without permission.

So, even if you had your profile information – such as your name, email addresss, occupation, etc etc – set as “not-public”, the information could be accessed by unauthorized parties.

According to Google, the flaw was introduced through a software update in November and was spotted less than a week later. The search giant says that it has seen no evidence that any app developers were aware of the flaw or misused it.

“With the discovery of this new bug, we have decided to expedite the shut-down of all Google+ APIs; this will occur within the next 90 days. In addition, we have also decided to accelerate the sunsetting of consumer Google+ from August 2019 to April 2019,” a contrite David Thacker wrote.

8
Oct

Google concealed a “software glitch” in Google+ that exposed data of half a million people

Irresponsibility is their policy:

Google exposed the private data of hundreds of thousands of users of the Google+ social network and then opted not to disclose the issue this past spring, in part because of fears that doing so would draw regulatory scrutiny and cause reputational damage, according to people briefed on the incident and documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

As part of its response to the incident, the Alphabet Inc. unit plans to announce a sweeping set of data privacy measures that include permanently shutting down all consumer functionality of Google+, the people said. The move effectively puts the final nail in the coffin of a product that was launched in 2011 to challenge Facebook Inc. and is widely seen as one of Google’s biggest failures.

A software glitch in the social site gave outside developers potential access to private Google+ profile data between 2015 and March 2018, when internal investigators discovered and fixed the issue, according to the documents and people briefed on the incident. A memo reviewed by the Journal prepared by Google’s legal and policy staff and shared with senior executives warned that disclosing the incident would likely trigger “immediate regulatory interest” and invite comparisons to Facebook’s leak of user information to data firm Cambridge Analytica.

This revelation raises the question: what other dirty laundry is the Monster of Mountain View hiding?

Google executives have clearly relished watching Facebook take incoming fire in the press on a near constant basis this year. It’s no wonder they didn’t want to come clean about their own failings. But if they truly lived by their internal motto of “don’t be evil”, then they would have disclosed this glitch in the interest of transparency. How they expected to keep it a secret indefinitely is anyone’s guess.

It’s good that Google+ is shutting down. But the company must not be allowed to wash its hands of this incident and walk away. There should be consequences.

The European Union and the United States government should launch immediate investigations into this matter and find out what other secrets Google may be keeping from its users and stockholders.

 

23
Mar

Crooks infiltrate Google Play with malware in QR reading utilities

Google fails again… surprise, surprise:

SophosLabs just alerted us to a malware family that had infiltrated Google Play by presenting itself as a bunch of handy utilities.

Sophos detects this malware as Andr/HiddnAd-AJ, and the name gives you an inkling of what the rogue apps do: blast you with ads, but only after lying low for a while to lull you into a false sense of security.

We reported the offending apps to Google, and they’ve now been pulled from the Play Store, but not before some of them attracted more than 500,000 downloads.

The subterfuge used by the developers to keep Google’s “Play Protect” app-vetting process sweet seems surprisingly simple.

Prefer Android to iOS? Use F-Droid to get apps, NOT Google Play. There’s no malware lurking on F-Droid.

22
Nov

Google admits tracking users’ location even when location services are disabled

Big Brother is watching you. Even if you’ve told Big Brother Google you don’t want to be tracked.

Many people realize that smartphones track their locations. But what if you actively turn off location services, haven’t used any apps, and haven’t even inserted a carrier SIM card?

Even if you take all of those precautions, phones running Android software gather data about your location and send it back to Google when they’re connected to the internet, a Quartz investigation has revealed.

Since the beginning of 2017, Android phones have been collecting the addresses of nearby cellular towers—even when location services are disabled—and sending that data back to Google. The result is that Google, the unit of Alphabet behind Android, has access to data about individuals’ locations and their movements that go far beyond a reasonable consumer expectation of privacy.

Quartz observed the data collection occur and contacted Google, which confirmed the practice.

When confronted, Google claimed that the tracking was happening in part to improve message delivery, which Quartz rightly deemed to be a completely bogus explanation.

It is not clear how cell-tower addresses, transmitted as a data string that identifies a specific cell tower, could have been used to improve message delivery. But the privacy implications of the covert location-sharing practice are plain. While information about a single cell tower can only offer an approximation of where a mobile device actually is, multiple towers can be used to triangulate its location to within about a quarter-mile radius, or to a more exact pinpoint in urban areas, where cell towers are closer together.

The practice is troubling for people who’d prefer they weren’t tracked, especially for those such as law-enforcement officials or victims of domestic abuse who turn off location services thinking they’re fully concealing their whereabouts. Although the data sent to Google is encrypted, it could potentially be sent to a third party if the phone had been compromised with spyware or other methods of hacking. Each phone has a unique ID number, with which the location data can be associated.

Read the whole thing.

1
Nov

Google’s reCaptcha defeated again

NakedSecurity reports:

Researchers have created an automated system to solve Google’s reCAPTCHA auditory challenges.

Again.

Poor, poor prove-you’re-a-human reCAPTCHA tests – also known as Completely Automated Procedures for Telling Computers and Humans Apart – they get no respect!

The point of reCAPTCHA challenges is to act as a gate that lets humans through but stops or slows down bots (software robots), so a bot that can solve a CAPTCHA automatically defeats the whole object of reCAPTCHA. And yet, that’s precisely what keeps happening. There are three kinds, and they’ve all been automatically kicked over by researchers.

reCAPTCHA tests aren’t much of a hurdle for sophisticated spammers, but they definitely inconvenience and annoy users. Yet they are in widespread use all over the place. Time to get rid of them and replace them with something better.

18
Sep

Malware still lurking in the Google Play mobile app store

Embarrassing:

It seems almost too ironic that the Google Play Store has been secretly invaded by even more malware after it has promoted its Google Play Protect security platform for Android. Boasting of technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence, Play Protect promises to protect Android users more thoroughly without having to increase manpower. Alas, it seems that another malware, named ExpensiveWall, has gotten past the Play Store’s security and this lapse is costing users a lot more than just peace of mind but actual money as well.

Check Point, the cybersecurity firm who reported this latest news, says that ExpensiveWall, named after one of its carriers, “Lovely Wallpaper” is actually a new variant of another malware discovered earlier this year. Both types of malware care costing users money by silently signing them up for premium subscriptions or sending premium SMS. Both strains have also made it past Google’s security checks and have been downloaded thousands of times by users.

SlashGear, which posted the report excerpted above, says Google needs to step its security game. Duh. Supposedly, that’s what they were doing when they launched “Play Protect”. But obviously, they failed.

Anyone who wants a secure mobile platform should invest in a BlackBerry device — and preferably one that runs the secure BlackBerry 10 operating system — to keep their data and networks secure.

11
Sep

Google releases new version of Chrome that incorporates a technology called “WebUSB”

USB, or Universal Series Bus, is already a technology that has a lot of security problems. Now Google is rushing to put into its increasingly dominant web browser (Chrome) a technology that allows websites to interface with USB devices via Javascript, which has to be one of the worst ideas they’ve ever come up with:

Google has wrapped up coding the desktop version of Chrome 61, and will be rolling it out for Windows, Mac and Linux “over the coming days/weeks”.

Chrome 61 extends the visibility of USB-connected devices to Web apps. First proposed last year, WebUSB was pitched as an easier way to set up USB devices, since (for example) a vendor’s site could use the API to push a config to a newly-connected gadget.

The feature’s focus, Google says, is on specialist devices that don’t have a standard way to advertise their capabilities. Keyboards or mice are easy, but as is explained in the specification, USB-connected educational devices (say, microscopes) or 3D printers aren’t conveniently accessible.

There’s also the vexed question of USB device updates: the Chrome devs explain WebUSB could let manufacturers update a device by getting users to visit the page and give permission to the update [What could possibly go wrong? – Reg].

What could possibly go wrong, indeed! That wasn’t just the reaction of the folks at The Register; it was also the reaction of a commenter at Phoronix, who also wisely said No thanks, Google.

We’ve learned over the past few years that everything connected to the internet tends to be less secure. Therefore, it follows that a device can be made more secure if it’s not connected to the internet. Perhaps we should strive to minimize how many devices can be connected directly to the internet by emphasizing localized control and asking ourselves, “Do we really need internet-controlled light-bulbs?”

This may not be to Google’s advantage, as it won’t be able to obtain as much data from non-internet-connected devices, but it may be to the benefit of the internet at large. Some devices may actually work better and be more useful when connected to the internet, but the majority of the “Internet of Things” probably doesn’t actually need an internet connection, especially if those devices can be controlled locally, either through a physical push of a button or through local networks such as Bluetooth, NFC, Thread, or other P2P mesh networking technologies. The latter could bring much of the same convenience of controlling a smart device from an app, without the downside of allowing someone from the other side of the world to connect to it as well.

Well said. Putting WebUSB in Chrome was a mistake. Then again, using Chrome is a mistake. LGB recommends Firefox instead, or one of its derivatives, like Waterfox or Pale Moon.