99% of Android phones leak secret account credentials

'Impersonation attacks' target Google services


The vast majority of devices running Google's Android operating system are vulnerable to attacks that allow adversaries to steal the digital credentials used to access calendars, contacts, and other sensitive data stored on the search giant's servers, university researchers have warned.

The weakness stems from the improper implementation of an authentication protocol known as ClientLogin in Android versions 2.3.3 and earlier, the researchers from Germany's University of Ulm said. After a user submits valid credentials for Google Calendar, Contacts and possibly other accounts, the programming interface retrieves an authentication token that is sent in cleartext. Because the authToken can be used for up to 14 days in any subsequent requests on the service, attackers can exploit them to gain unauthorized access to accounts.

“We wanted to know if it is really possible to launch an impersonation attack against Google services and started our own analysis,” the researchers in the university's Institute of Media Informatics wrote on Friday. “The short answer is: Yes, it is possible, and it is quite easy to do so.”

The findings build off previous findings of Rice University professor Dan Wallach, who in February uncovered similar Android privacy shortcomings affecting Twitter, Facebook, and Google Calendar during a simple exercise for his undergraduate security class. The attacks can only be carried out when the devices are using unsecured networks, such as those offered at Wi-Fi hotspots.

Google patched the security hole earlier this month with the release of Android 2.3.4, although that version, and possibly Android 3, still cause devices synchronizing with Picasa web albums to transmit sensitive data through unencrypted channels, the researchers said. Based on Google's own statistics, this means more than 99 percent of Android-based handsets are vulnerable to the attacks, which are similar in difficulty and effect to so-called sidejacking exploits that steal authentication cookies.

A Google spokesman said the company's Android team is aware of the Picasa deficiencies and is working on a fix.

Researchers Bastian Könings, Jens Nickels, and Florian Schaub warned that the weaknesses could be used against people who use their Android devices on networks under the control of an attacker.

“To collect such authTokens on a large scale an adversary could setup a wifi access point with a common SSID (evil twin) of an unencrypted wireless network, e.g., T-Mobile, attwifi, starbucks,” they wrote. “With default settings, Android phones automatically connect to a previously known network and many apps will attempt syncing immediately. While syncing would fail (unless the adversary forwards the requests), the adversary would capture authTokens for each service that attempted syncing.”

Apps that use ClientLogin should immediately start doing so over encrypted, https channels, the researchers said. A more robust authentication protocol known as oAuth will also close the authToken capture vulnerability, although https should still be used to prevent synced data from being intercepted.

The researchers also suggested Google improve its security by shortening the length of time authTokens are valid and rejecting ClientLogin requests from insecure http connections.

With more than 99 percent of carriers offering their users Android versions with known security weaknesses, the report demonstrates how little success Google has had in getting its partners to upgrade to the latest versions. Many Verizon Wireless customers, for instance, remain stuck with Android 2.2.2, despite containing vulnerabilities that have been known about for months.

Last week, Google said it planned to work more closely with wireless carriers in an attempt to help them offer Android updates more quickly. The company has yet to offer details.

A Verizon spokeswoman told The Register she couldn't say when the company will provide customers with an updated version of Android. She said users should consider using their devices only on secured networks. ®

This article was updated to add comment from Verizon and to make clear weaknesses in Twitter and Facebook applications were discovered by Wallach.


Other stories you might like

  • Cisco warns of security holes in its security appliances
    Bugs potentially useful for rogue insiders, admin account hijackers

    Cisco has alerted customers to another four vulnerabilities in its products, including a high-severity flaw in its email and web security appliances. 

    The networking giant has issued a patch for that bug, tracked as CVE-2022-20664. The flaw is present in the web management interface of Cisco's Secure Email and Web Manager and Email Security Appliance in both the virtual and hardware appliances. Some earlier versions of both products, we note, have reached end of life, and so the manufacturer won't release fixes; it instead told customers to migrate to a newer version and dump the old.

    This bug received a 7.7 out of 10 CVSS severity score, and Cisco noted that its security team is not aware of any in-the-wild exploitation, so far. That said, given the speed of reverse engineering, that day is likely to come. 

    Continue reading
  • Google: How we tackled this iPhone, Android spyware
    Watching people's every move and collecting their info – not on our watch, says web ads giant

    Spyware developed by Italian firm RCS Labs was used to target cellphones in Italy and Kazakhstan — in some cases with an assist from the victims' cellular network providers, according to Google's Threat Analysis Group (TAG).

    RCS Labs customers include law-enforcement agencies worldwide, according to the vendor's website. It's one of more than 30 outfits Google researchers are tracking that sell exploits or surveillance capabilities to government-backed groups. And we're told this particular spyware runs on both iOS and Android phones.

    We understand this particular campaign of espionage involving RCS's spyware was documented last week by Lookout, which dubbed the toolkit "Hermit." We're told it is potentially capable of spying on the victims' chat apps, camera and microphone, contacts book and calendars, browser, and clipboard, and beam that info back to base. It's said that Italian authorities have used this tool in tackling corruption cases, and the Kazakh government has had its hands on it, too.

    Continue reading
  • Makers of ad blockers and browser privacy extensions fear the end is near
    Overhaul of Chrome add-ons set for January, Google says it's for all our own good

    Special report Seven months from now, assuming all goes as planned, Google Chrome will drop support for its legacy extension platform, known as Manifest v2 (Mv2). This is significant if you use a browser extension to, for instance, filter out certain kinds of content and safeguard your privacy.

    Google's Chrome Web Store is supposed to stop accepting Mv2 extension submissions sometime this month. As of January 2023, Chrome will stop running extensions created using Mv2, with limited exceptions for enterprise versions of Chrome operating under corporate policy. And by June 2023, even enterprise versions of Chrome will prevent Mv2 extensions from running.

    The anticipated result will be fewer extensions and less innovation, according to several extension developers.

    Continue reading
  • Azure issues not adequately fixed for months, complain bug hunters
    Redmond kicks off Patch Tuesday with a months-old flaw fix

    Updated Two security vendors – Orca Security and Tenable – have accused Microsoft of unnecessarily putting customers' data and cloud environments at risk by taking far too long to fix critical vulnerabilities in Azure.

    In a blog published today, Orca Security researcher Tzah Pahima claimed it took Microsoft several months to fully resolve a security flaw in Azure's Synapse Analytics that he discovered in January. 

    And in a separate blog published on Monday, Tenable CEO Amit Yoran called out Redmond for its lack of response to – and transparency around – two other vulnerabilities that could be exploited by anyone using Azure Synapse. 

    Continue reading
  • Google has more reasons why it doesn't like antitrust law that affects Google
    It'll ruin Gmail, claims web ads giant

    Google has a fresh list of reasons why it opposes tech antitrust legislation making its way through Congress but, like others who've expressed discontent, the ad giant's complaints leave out mention of portions of the proposed law that address said gripes.

    The law bill in question is S.2992, the Senate version of the American Innovation and Choice Online Act (AICOA), which is closer than ever to getting votes in the House and Senate, which could see it advanced to President Biden's desk.

    AICOA prohibits tech companies above a certain size from favoring their own products and services over their competitors. It applies to businesses considered "critical trading partners," meaning the company controls access to a platform through which business users reach their customers. Google, Apple, Amazon, and Meta in one way or another seemingly fall under the scope of this US legislation. 

    Continue reading
  • How refactoring code in Safari's WebKit resurrected 'zombie' security bug
    Fixed in 2013, reinstated in 2016, exploited in the wild this year

    A security flaw in Apple's Safari web browser that was patched nine years ago was exploited in the wild again some months ago – a perfect example of a "zombie" vulnerability.

    That's a bug that's been patched, but for whatever reason can be abused all over again on up-to-date systems and devices – or a bug closely related to a patched one.

    In a write-up this month, Maddie Stone, a top researcher on Google's Project Zero team, shared details of a Safari vulnerability that folks realized in January this year was being exploited in the wild. This remote-code-execution flaw could be abused by a specially crafted website, for example, to run spyware on someone's device when viewed in their browser.

    Continue reading
  • Microsoft fixes under-attack Windows zero-day Follina
    Plus: Intel, AMD react to Hertzbleed data-leaking holes in CPUs

    Patch Tuesday Microsoft claims to have finally fixed the Follina zero-day flaw in Windows as part of its June Patch Tuesday batch, which included security updates to address 55 vulnerabilities.

    Follina, eventually acknowledged by Redmond in a security advisory last month, is the most significant of the bunch as it has already been exploited in the wild.

    Criminals and snoops can abuse the remote code execution (RCE) bug, tracked as CVE-2022-30190, by crafting a file, such as a Word document, so that when opened it calls out to the Microsoft Windows Support Diagnostic Tool, which is then exploited to run malicious code, such spyware and ransomware. Disabling macros in, say, Word won't stop this from happening.

    Continue reading
  • CISA and friends raise alarm on critical flaws in industrial equipment, infrastructure
    Nearly 60 holes found affecting 'more than 30,000' machines worldwide

    Updated Fifty-six vulnerabilities – some deemed critical – have been found in industrial operational technology (OT) systems from ten global manufacturers including Honeywell, Ericsson, Motorola, and Siemens, putting more than 30,000 devices worldwide at risk, according to private security researchers. 

    Some of these vulnerabilities received CVSS severity scores as high as 9.8 out of 10. That is particularly bad, considering these devices are used in critical infrastructure across the oil and gas, chemical, nuclear, power generation and distribution, manufacturing, water treatment and distribution, mining and building and automation industries. 

    The most serious security flaws include remote code execution (RCE) and firmware vulnerabilities. If exploited, these holes could potentially allow miscreants to shut down electrical and water systems, disrupt the food supply, change the ratio of ingredients to result in toxic mixtures, and … OK, you get the idea.

    Continue reading
  • If you're using older, vulnerable Cisco small biz routers, throw them out
    Severe security flaw won't be fixed – as patches released this week for other bugs

    If you thought you were over the hump with Patch Tuesday then perhaps think again: Cisco has just released fixes for a bunch of flaws, two of which are not great.

    First on the priority list should be a critical vulnerability in its enterprise security appliances, and the second concerns another critical bug in some of its outdated small business routers that it's not going to fix. In other words, junk your kit or somehow mitigate the risk.

    Both of these received a CVSS score of 9.8 out of 10 in severity. The IT giant urged customers to patch affected security appliances ASAP if possible, and upgrade to newer hardware if you're still using an end-of-life, buggy router. We note that miscreants aren't actively exploiting either of these vulnerabilities — yet.

    Continue reading
  • Brave Search leaves beta, offers Goggles for filtering, personalizing results
    Freedom or echo chamber?

    Brave Software, maker of a privacy-oriented browser, on Wednesday said its surging search service has exited beta testing while its Goggles search personalization system has entered beta testing.

    Brave Search, which debuted a year ago, has received 2.5 billion search queries since then, apparently, and based on current monthly totals is expected to handle twice as many over the next year. The search service is available in the Brave browser and in other browsers by visiting search.brave.com.

    "Since launching one year ago, Brave Search has prioritized independence and innovation in order to give users the privacy they deserve," wrote Josep Pujol, chief of search at Brave. "The web is changing, and our incredible growth shows that there is demand for a new player that puts users first."

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022