Oh there it is, Facebook shrugs as Free Basics private key found to be signing unrelated apps

Walled-garden Android platform security easily copied


Facebook has insisted that losing control of the private key used to sign its Facebook Basics app is no biggie despite totally unrelated apps from other vendors, signed with the same key, popping up in unofficial repositories.

Targeted mainly at third-world countries, Facebook Basics is the latest incarnation of Internet.org and Free Basics. The idea was to offer free access to Facebook-owned internet properties (and only Facebook-owned ones) with the intention of getting the great unconnected hooked on The Social Network, WhatsApp and Instagram.

So it was that last week the Android Police website, something between an online souk and an occasional tech blog, informed the world that "random APKs" were being uploaded to its Android app mirror site – with Facebook's key signature. The site maintains its own APK repository, parallel to the Google Play store.

"In the last month, we've spotted third-party apps using a debug signing key which matched the key used by Facebook for its Free Basics Android app," wrote Android Police. The site's owner, Artem Russakovskii, said he reported the key compromise to Facebook after spotting unrelated APKs with the same key signature. He also claimed that because he tweeted about it publicly after reporting it, Facebook had refused to pay out a bug bounty.

For its part, Facebook quietly released a new version of Facebook Basics in mid-August, signed with a new key, which at the time of writing has had just over 100,000 downloads.

A Facebook spokesbeing told The Register: "We were notified of a potential security issue that could have tricked people into installing a malicious update to their Free Basics app for Android if they chose to use untrusted sources. We have seen no evidence of abuse and have fixed the issue in the latest release of the app."

Nowhere on the Google Play store entry for the latest version of the app is there anything suggesting that it's a newly re-signed update to mitigate the loss of the key. In fact, nowhere at all is there anything suggesting a Facebook private key somehow found its way into the public domain.

A Google search with the SHA-1 hash of the old key returns some results to dodgy third-party sites and apps which are definitely not Facebook Basics.

The standard advice is not to install apps from anywhere other than the official app stores. Indeed, someone using the Google Play store wouldn't have been affected by this at all, and one would hope even Google might notice a key being recycled between app makers.

Non-internet-savvy people – such as the target market for Facebook Basics – could easily have been tricked into installing a wholly illegitimate version of the app which would have otherwise passed muster, complete with what looked like a legitimate Facebook key.

If you have any friends or relatives using Facebook Basics, now is a good time to double check it was downloaded from the Google Play store. ®

Similar topics

Narrower topics


Other stories you might like

  • US-APAC trade deal leaves out Taiwan, military defense not ruled out
    All fun and games until the chip factories are in the crosshairs

    US President Joe Biden has heralded an Indo-Pacific trade deal signed by several nations that do not include Taiwan. At the same time, Biden warned China that America would defend Taiwan from attack; it is home to a critical slice of the global chip industry, after all. 

    The agreement, known as the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), is still in its infancy, with today's announcement enabling the United States and the other 12 participating countries to begin negotiating "rules of the road that ensure [US businesses] can compete in the Indo-Pacific," the White House said. 

    Along with America, other IPEF signatories are Australia, Brunei, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Combined, the White House said, the 13 countries participating in the IPEF make up 40 percent of the global economy. 

    Continue reading
  • 381,000-plus Kubernetes API servers 'exposed to internet'
    Firewall isn't a made-up word from the Hackers movie, people

    A large number of servers running the Kubernetes API have been left exposed to the internet, which is not great: they're potentially vulnerable to abuse.

    Nonprofit security organization The Shadowserver Foundation recently scanned 454,729 systems hosting the popular open-source platform for managing and orchestrating containers, finding that more than 381,645 – or about 84 percent – are accessible via the internet to varying degrees thus providing a cracked door into a corporate network.

    "While this does not mean that these instances are fully open or vulnerable to an attack, it is likely that this level of access was not intended and these instances are an unnecessarily exposed attack surface," Shadowserver's team stressed in a write-up. "They also allow for information leakage on version and build."

    Continue reading
  • A peek into Gigabyte's GPU Arm for AI, HPC shops
    High-performance platform choices are going beyond the ubiquitous x86 standard

    Arm-based servers continue to gain momentum with Gigabyte Technology introducing a system based on Ampere's Altra processors paired with Nvidia A100 GPUs, aimed at demanding workloads such as AI training and high-performance compute (HPC) applications.

    The G492-PD0 runs either an Ampere Altra or Altra Max processor, the latter delivering 128 64-bit cores that are compatible with the Armv8.2 architecture.

    It supports 16 DDR4 DIMM slots, which would be enough space for up to 4TB of memory if all slots were filled with 256GB memory modules. The chassis also has space for no fewer than eight Nvidia A100 GPUs, which would make for a costly but very powerful system for those workloads that benefit from GPU acceleration.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022