Slapdash SSL code puts tons of top Android Play Store apps in hack peril

Man-in-the-middles all round!


Sloppy programming, poor patching, and unreliable trust engines are rife within Android apps, according to a new study. In short, millions smartphone users are potentially wide open to man-in-the-middle attacks, it's claimed.

Researchers at security firm FireEye went through the 1,000 most popular Android applications from the Google Play store and found that a large majority of them were open to at least man-in-the-middle attacks, thanks to faulty SSL error and certificate handling. For the top 10,000 apps that figure was 60 per cent.

"The Android ecosystem is all about communicating, and right now it's screaming for help," the team said in a blog post. "That's because SSL vulnerabilities and the Man-In-The-Middle (MITM) attacks they enable are wreaking havoc on data security."

The researchers examined the code for three basic SSL security errors: trust managers that don't check digital certificates are even valid, apps don't verify the hostname of the remote server is correct, and code that ignores SSL errors when using Webkit – errors that flag up when security integrity checks have failed.

Trust management engines not checking the identity of backend servers is by far the most common problem, and essentially means miscreants can masquerade as legit systems to siphon off data, and so on. This occurred in 73 per cent of the top 1,000 apps and 40 per cent of the top 10,000 applications in Google's download zone.

The second most common flaw was Webkit errors, affecting 77 per cent of the top 1,000 apps and 13 per cent of the top 10,000. Meanwhile hostname checking errors were in the single figures for both test groups.

Ad networks are an increasingly attractive attack vector for man-in-the-middle attacks, either to hijack a connection to install malware or suck away viewers to other sites. The team found the two top advertising libraries in the sample set – Flurry and Chartboost – had unreliable trust managers.

Both pieces of software have now been fixed, but that doesn't mean third-party app coders have upgraded, rebuilt their code and released new versions.

"Many issues in SSL and cryptography arise from how applications are tested and released. During development, many software shops find it useful to disable normal validation of SSL to facilitate testing," Patrick Thomas, security consultant at and risk management company Neohapsis told El Reg in a statement.

"This is a dangerous practice because it requires that someone remember to turn it back on before shipping - an easy mistake to make with huge consequences. This sort of research highlights the importance of having security expertise tightly integrated with development teams, and performing specific security testing (in addition to functional testing) before release." ®

Narrower topics


Other stories you might like

  • Robotics and 5G to spur growth of SoC industry – report
    Big OEMs hogging production and COVID causing supply issues

    The system-on-chip (SoC) side of the semiconductor industry is poised for growth between now and 2026, when it's predicted to be worth $6.85 billion, according to an analyst's report. 

    Chances are good that there's an SoC-powered device within arm's reach of you: the tiny integrated circuits contain everything needed for a basic computer, leading to their proliferation in mobile, IoT and smart devices. 

    The report predicting the growth comes from advisory biz Technavio, which looked at a long list of companies in the SoC market. Vendors it analyzed include Apple, Broadcom, Intel, Nvidia, TSMC, Toshiba, and more. The company predicts that much of the growth between now and 2026 will stem primarily from robotics and 5G. 

    Continue reading
  • Deepfake attacks can easily trick live facial recognition systems online
    Plus: Next PyTorch release will support Apple GPUs so devs can train neural networks on their own laptops

    In brief Miscreants can easily steal someone else's identity by tricking live facial recognition software using deepfakes, according to a new report.

    Sensity AI, a startup focused on tackling identity fraud, carried out a series of pretend attacks. Engineers scanned the image of someone from an ID card, and mapped their likeness onto another person's face. Sensity then tested whether they could breach live facial recognition systems by tricking them into believing the pretend attacker is a real user.

    So-called "liveness tests" try to authenticate identities in real-time, relying on images or video streams from cameras like face recognition used to unlock mobile phones, for example. Nine out of ten vendors failed Sensity's live deepfake attacks.

    Continue reading
  • Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon's lava tubes
    How? Founder tells The Register 'Robots… lots of robots'

    Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

    Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world's data.

    "It's inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we're setting off bombs and burning things," Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. "We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe."

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022