June 11, 2013 By: Pulser_G2
In case you are someone like I am who doesn’t follow the annual “update” of iOS, this is where they make it more like Android and make use of some features Android has had for years (i.e. notification pull-down), and announce a few changes and “new” things the rest of the world has done for years.
Before I go any further, the previous sentence is intended as a joke, let’s not turn this into an iOS vs whatever war. This is about something that all platforms need to unite on: user data security.
Apple yesterday announced a new feature, whereby your passwords will be synced between all your devices, using their iCloud service. On the face of it, this ought to encourage users to use stronger passwords, as they do not need to remember each password. Unfortunately, this “user friendly” system appears to have a few fundamental flaws. This is called iCloud Keychain.
Firstly, Apple encourages password re-use. Not in the strict sense of using the one password across different sites, rather in the sense of using one password for secure and nonsecure tasks—an iPhone user must enter his/her Apple Account/iCloud password to install or update an app. They must also enter this same iCloud password to restore their cloud device backup to a new phone. And, no doubt, will use this iCloud password to unlock the iCloud Keychain.
At this point, the security-inclined among us will be boiling up in a nerdrage, at the thought of using the same password for a routine, insecure environment task (installing an app a friend recommends), and then re-using that same password to unlock your entire digital life of passwords and credit card details. To quote from Apple, this service will store website logins, credit card numbers, WiFi networks, and account information. Asides from the fact I sincerely doubt it is storing WiFi networks, and rather stores WiFi passwords, this seems rather unsafe.
I know 3 of my friends’ iCloud passwords. Not through some devious social engineering scam, or through some super-sneaky shoulder surfing. No… They each volunteered it to me. For whatever reason they were showing me something on their phone, and Apple decided it was time to ask for their iCloud password again. I was showing one how to update their apps, and before I could hand the phone back to them to log in on, they had told me their iCloud password. AAARGH… Don’t Apple teach security to their users?
I am more than certain that plenty of iPhone (and other Apple product users) are not aware of the need to keep secure their iCloud password, as Apple shields them from the technical nuances to avoid spoiling their marketing of everything being sleek and safe. Having a red warning “IF ANYONE FINDS OUT THIS PASSWORD, THEY WILL OWN YOUR ENTIRE LIFE FOREVER MORE” would be justifiable, but there is no such warning.
Unfortunately, the product launch also introduced some technical words. “Oh, but it protects them with robust AES 256-bit encryption”, I hear you say, quoting from the announcement. And indeed, that is correct. But AES-256 encryption is not quite so robust when a legitimate user can obtain the key through simply knowing their iCloud password. Or when someone just resets your iCloud password. Do you really think Apple will design this system securely, so if a user forgets his/her password, they forever lose access? Or will they build in a user-friendly backdoor to allow the user back into his/her account once they call support? I’ll let you figure that out… Unfortunately Apple are in a predicament here: They need users to use super-strong, hyper-complex passwords for their iCloud account. And understand the technical reasons they must keep this password secure. The problem is, like most Apple products, they are designed for ease of use, and therefore the majority of users will pick a simple password.
Which means it will be nice and short so it is convenient for them to type in every time they install or update an app.
Which means it’s not secure.
Expect attacks on iCloud accounts to rise in volume and risk, particularly against less technical users. I anticipate a lot of phishing attacks attempting to tell Apple device users their account just needs a “little upgrade”, and to just click this link so one of their geniuses will sort it all out automatically. While the friendly-friendly approach works to a point, it doesn’t work whatsoever when it comes to the harsh realities of security. This is not secure encryption, as it depends on a user who is constantly shielded from the technical intricacies of the process.
Android, as an operating system, is fairly unique in that it makes users aware of the permissions available to apps in a fairly transparent way. Compared to Blackberry or iOS, which issue granular prompts such as “Can Angry Birds access your location?” or “Can Instagram access your camera to take photos?” There is a somewhat subtle difference here: The rivals give the user a choice about these requests.
Jump over to Android where, after installing an app, it has free reign to use every permission you agreed to. While this doesn’t sound an issue, let’s take a look at the Play Store. Let’s look at a nice, popular app (for better or for worse): Facebook.
The Facebook app has permissions to:
Getting tired and out of breath yet? It’s not over yet though! Facebook can also:
What is perhaps most disconcerting is that while Google acknowledges openly the risks in each permission (I suggest you take a read at the detailed description of some of the permissions on a Play Store listing), the company takes no steps to help you with this. Thus, the entire Android ecosystem is built around you trusting the developer to play fair, and not do anything dodgy.
And while I might be unique in my recommendation (which I firmly believe is warranted in this day and age given recent information revealing the extent of mass surveillance that is ongoing) to trust nobody, not even yourself. For this reason, I suggest the Android permissions system is totally flawed, in relying on developers to not abuse permissions, and not request excessive permissions. How many torch apps on Android have more than the required camera permission (to enable the camera)? I’d suggest most do, feel free to take a look!
You’d think the Android community would rally against such behaviou, but it’s reached a point where it is acceptable for developers to declare a need for excessively gratuitous permissions in order to use their apps. What happened to user choice? I then was pointed towards this post on G+ by Steve Kondik (XDA Recognized Developer cyanogen), which I read with much dismay. While I do not use G+ (closed platform, requiring far too much data to be disclosed to Google), I would suggest that with respect, the need for user privacy and security MUST come first, as it’s clear app developers cannot “do” security.
Perhaps if Google introduced zero tolerance for moronic errors in security (plaintext passwords, gathering contacts data, obtaining device IDs that are not hashed suitably with a cryptographic hash etc), it might offer an incentive to consider security? Given many users (wrongly) reuse passwords between services, the sending of plaintext passwords should be sufficient, in this author’s opinion, to justify immediate removal of all of a developer’s apps from the Play Store, forever.
Some people just don’t know how to do security. And for them, I sigh. Users deserve security, and privacy, and unless you go ahead and look at the OpenPDroid project on XDA (which I strongly suggest you check out), you are pretty much being abandoned by even the leader of CyanogenMod. While I appreciate his concerns for app developers, it is simply inexcusable to not look into fixing the glaring hole that is contacts access. This is 2013, the era of social engineering, and I cannot choose selectively which apps see which contacts in my address book? REALLY?
Something needs to happen here, before people wake up and smell the coffee, and realize this isn’t sustainable. It’s time users became more aware about what apps are doing, and the extent of data mining that is ongoing. It’s your data, and it should be entirely your choice who gets it.
You shouldn’t have to avoid an app because you don’t like the look of its permissions; you should be able to (whether as stock Google feature, or custom ROM feature) be able to selectively decline to allow an app to access your data. And this should be done gracefully, either providing empty data (for contacts, or similar), or null data (i.e. requesting phone number or IMEI should return the same response as a tablet lacking these identifiers).
Is it right to deny your users the choice, to make life “easier” for app developers? (arguably to allow them to capture user data more easily) I argue it’s not, and it’s time the Android community unites to put an end to apps having free reign over YOUR data. If this concerns you, why not check out the aforementioned OpenPDroid (and similar) projects on XDA, and see if you can help out, or test, or contribute to the cause?
June 6, 2013 By: Pulser_G2
The UK newspaper The Guardian has revealed today that US CDMA telecommunications provider Verizon is secretly collecting and disclosing the telephone records of a huge number of subscribers (likely in the order of tens of millions of Americans) to USA’s National Security Agency (NSA), often cynically referred to as “Never Say Anything.” This classified, top secret court order, whose classification does not expire until April 2038, compels Verizon to provide, and continue to provide on an ongoing basis:
[...] an electronic copy of the following tangible things:
All call detail records or “telephony metadata” created by Verizon for communications
(i) between the United States and abroad; or
(ii) wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls
As if to somewhat diminish this, the order goes on to state it does not require Verizon to provide details of calls that start and end outside of the United States. This is little comfort, however, for any subscriber using the Verizon network, as the order goes on to detail the definition of the metadata requested. This includes the source and end-point telephone numbers, the IMSI and IMEI numbers, and the trunk identifier, among other things. The significance of this is that the presence of both the IMEI and IMSI numbers mean that Verizon is being forced to disclose information that identifies individual devices and handsets in use (the IMEI permits identification of the handset model in use, as well as the individual phone).
Quite why such top-secret blanket surveillance is required is obviously the top question right now. And while the NSA claims this is the equivalent to looking at a traditional letter’s envelope, it seems a somewhat tenuous link since letters do not contain an unchangeable identifier on them (IMEI) that can be tied back to you at the point of purchase.
While the NSA’s aims specifically exclude it from carrying out “spying” or surveillance on non-foreign targets, this is somewhat concerning, no?
Source: The Guardian
June 5, 2013 By: Pulser_G2
Welcome to Part 2 of our Say Sayonara to Google series, raising awareness of the options for using Android without Google services. Today, we look at alternative “cloud” services that are Open Source and can be installed on your own server. While there are no doubt many of these available, one that has gained significant attention recently is OwnCloud. OwnCloud is developed totally in the open (you can even clone and run directly from their Github repositories if you so desire, though this is obviously not recommended for running on a production system), in contrast to the “pseudo-open” development carried out on AOSP by Google.
What is OwnCloud About?
OwnCloud aims to offer an extendable online storage system including synchronization, to allow for contacts, calendars, files and bookmarks to be synchronized across multiple devices while retaining control of your data in the process. When using OwnCloud, all of your data is stored on a system within your control, with an Open Source backend (as opposed to a closed system such as Google).
How can I get Started?
You can set up and run your own OwnCloud instance for free on your own existing server by following the instructions from the OwnCloud website. It is strongly advisable to use an SSL certificate with this though, which may come at a small cost. Additionally, if you trust the third parties, there are a handful of providers offering free OwnCloud installations. Obviously in light of the fact that if you’re doing this, you likely don’t “trust” Google with your data. Thus, I’d suggest you consider these services merely for testing.
OK, so Contact Sync?
Yep. Unfortunately though, CardDav isn’t natively supported in Android. It might be supported in your third party variant of Android. (I’m sure I remember seeing this in an older version of TouchWiz.) It’s most likely that you’ll need to use a third party alternative client to sync your contacts. To get this application (which is free), you’ll need to use the Play Store unfortunately, as the developer has only published the free version there. The free Beta version is available here, although the developer has stated he will Open Source the application when he has the application ready for 1.0 release and the code has been tidied up.
Presuming you have set up OwnCloud (which is fairly straightforward if you have your own server etc, and which I believe to be outwith the scope of this article, unless enough readers want a guide), you can configure the CardDav sync client fairly simply by installing the above linked application, and entering the URL of your OwnCloud server (hopefully you are using SSL!), followed by “remote.php/carddav/” (see the developer’s wiki for more details of syncing with OwnCloud).
Once this is done, you can configure syncing. I suggest you disable the “one-way only” sync option, although be aware of the risks of doing this (i.e. if something goes wrong on your phone, it could overwrite server contacts). Presuming you have a backup strategy in place (which you should already have), you should be fine. By enabling two-way contact sync, you should have full contact syncing, like with Google’s own contacts sync service.
Unfortunately, it appears HTC are being deliberately obstructive on using third party contact syncing, so you may have issues on the HTC One using Sense UI. Let us know if you do manage to get it working though. Apparently the bug is a “feature…” Good one, HTC. One more reason to avoid the One (pun intended).
Your phone should upload all your existing contacts to your CardDav server at this point. Alternatively, if you are setting up your phone from scratch (recommended) to purge Google from it, you could export your Google contacts as a VCF file and import them into OwnCloud’s web interface.
At this point, it’s worth ensuring that you are no longer syncing contacts with Google by going to the Accounts and Sync menu and disabling contact sync for your Google accounts. If you wish to erase your contacts from Google, head over to Gmail in your browser and delete the contacts from the web interface.
Congratulations, you are now syncing your contacts between devices, only using your own server. We unfortunately have to use one non-Open Source application at present. However, hopefully once Marten Gajda completes his application, it will be open-sourced, offering Android users a way to sync their contacts using entirely open software and server systems.
How do you know if your handset is infected with malware? You might not be able to tell until after it’s triggered. And this particular trigger method is very interesting. You know how Google Now listens for you to say the word “Google” to initiate a voice search? Malware might know the same trick. An infected device could be just waiting to hear the right thing before taking action.
This white paper (PDF) from a group of student researchers envisions an “annoyance attack” in a movie theater. Infected phones may be waiting for sound from one of the movie trailers, at which point they would take themselves off of silent mode and start ringing. But the traditional tricks used by malware, like botnet initiated denial of service attacks, still ring true.
If you’re not excited about reading research papers, take a look at the article Darlene Storm published on the subject. She references some examples of real-world malware apps and the mayhem they caused. In this research case, the thing to focus on is the trigger mechanism. The authors point out that security measures are getting better all the time, making it harder for malicious software to phone home or receive commands from a central server without being detected. By using the array of sensors on a modern smartphone, they can be activated in a multitude of different ways—audio, video (camera or light sensor), vibration, or magnetic—without raising the hackles of the security apps. Of course, the answer is to make sure the malware doesn’t make it onto your device in the first place.
What is freedom? This is a big question being asked by people around the world over the past few years. Many of us believe (and often rightly so) that we are fairly free. Arguably, this is correct in many countries throughout the world. You have political freedoms and many many more. But do you have electronic freedom?
For almost everyone reading this article, it is likely you have a Google Account. This means you have a Gmail account. It’s tied deeply into Android via the Google Apps package of proprietary applications (they are not open sourced, unlike the core Android operating system), and rely on closed back-end systems. The problem with such closed systems is:
This last part is significant. Even if you decide that you can trust Google (and I remind everyone of the flaws of the concept of trust—it is much wiser to trust no-one), they can change their legal policies such that they are no longer effectively trustworthy. Google’s own terms of service are a long read, and definitely worth taking a look at. Try and decipher them for yourself, and figure out what applies to which services.
At this point it’s worth being clear. This is not meant to be a “Google is evil” article. Google does make efforts to care about user privacy; take a look at your Google Dashboard. The company is quite transparent about the information retained. The trouble is that there’s no easy way for you to say, “No. I don’t want you to store this.” Google is a company that makes money from knowing everything it can; it’s not in the company’s interest to encourage you to make this more difficult for them! And while it is commendable Google wants to let you see what they know about you, the company doesn’t really help you adjust information such as how to remove Android devices you no longer want listed as being associated with you, including IMEIs and so on.
Over the course of this series of articles, we’ll look at ways you can move away from being so heavily reliant upon Google services. At all times, we’ll try to use Open Source solutions, which are free to use and modify. As a bonus for security, open source code is able to be scrutinized by anyone who wants to take a look at it. Per the popular Open Source advocate’s expression, “Many eyes make all bugs shallow,” which tends to improve security.
In the upcoming first article of the series, we’ll take a look at how to reduce our reliance on the Google Play Store and why we’d want to do that.
Let’s be honest; our phones are probably some of the most personal objects we have. From the memories captured with the camera to the hour-long text conversations, from the bank and credit card details stored within the apps to even our calendars; the consequences of a lost phone or a phone in stranger’s hands would be devastating. So in addition to the password protected lock screen, you may want to add an extra layer of security with HI App Lock.
Developed by XDA Forum Member hiapp, Hi App Lock allows you to lock any app on your phone with a four to eight digit PIN. A more efficient way of protecting information from intruders than apps that require you to navigate to a specific location to view protected files, Hi App Locks simply prompts for a PIN input every time you want to open up an app. This method also allows for the flexibility to protect any sort of data and information that may be on your phone such as emails, bank details, photos, text messages, and so forth.
Force closing the app through the settings menu would only close the app momentarily, upon which HI App Lock would instantly relaunch itself before anyone has the chance to navigate to a protected app. Other important functions include locking incoming and outgoing calls, prevention of uninstalling of apps, a widget for quick lock and unlock, and a security question in the event when you may have forgotten your pin number. Of course, however, rooted devices with ADB debugging left enabled and those without password-protected recoveries or encrypted /data storage can still find themselves at risk, so make sure you turn off ADB and encrypt your device if you’re planning on securing your device.
Hi App Lock is compatible with any device running Android version 2.1 or newer and is free from the Play store. If this has gotten your attention, make sure to check out the application thread for more information.
After our earlier article warning users to uninstall the Sky apps from their devices, it’s time to take a look at the technical significance of this attack. Firstly, the attackers have managed to do two key things here, each of which should each be impossibly difficult for the Play Store update system to be secure:
The former is obviously important to security, since without access to the Developer Console, it is not possible to push out an update to an existing app. While obviously a malicious user could publish his own app, he would not be able to push an update to an existing app already installed via the Play Store, unless he can do so using the account of the developer who originally published the application.
The latter is equally (if not more) important a security measure: Even if an attacker gains access to your Developer Console, they cannot push an update to an existing app if it is not signed using the same keys as before. This check is also enforced on each individual Android device, meaning even if there was a bug in the Play Store implementation of this security, your own device would reject the update! All bets are off though, if the private signing key is compromised or accessed.
In the case of the current Sky attack, it seems likely that both the Developer Account and the private signing keys were compromised. At this point, the safest option would arguably be for Google to use its remote uninstall trigger on these packages, if there is any indication the actual packages themselves were compromised. Sky will no doubt resist this, as they would not want to see their apps disappear from users’ devices. Unfortunately for them though, it is long past that. These users need to uninstall the app now, as Sky can no longer continue to use these keys.
And herein lies the ultimate problem in the Android security chain (and indeed in most certificate based security systems). There is no system for effective, wide-reaching key revocation. If your Android signing keys are compromised, the trust chain ends. There is no way for you to revoke your compromised key, so clients will no longer trust an app update signed with it. There is also (less importantly from security, but more importantly from the developer’s perspective) no way to securely supersede these keys with new ones (while ensuring an attacker cannot replace the keys with his own).
What does this mean for developers?
Take all reasonable steps to protect your Google Play Store Developer account:
Take immense care of your private code signing key as well:
Finally though, what lessons should we all learn (and perhaps Google start to ponder)?
Hopefully, Google will make use of their remote uninstall ability to remove the app from user devices, and also let them know somehow (email to their Gmail accounts) what happened, and that Sky did not look after their key properly. This is a major embarrassment to Sky, and they should hang their heads firmly in shame for not taking sufficient precautions to ensure that everyone with access to their signing key was suitably competent to prevent it falling into the wrong hands.
At the end of the day, it is the end user whose security is affected by the failings of the developer. And for this reason, security lapses such as these are unforgivable.
May 26, 2013 By: Pulser_G2
Today is Sunday, 26th May, and across the world, many people have woken up following a leisurely lie-in to the small notification of an updated app being available. Nothing unusual there, or so you’d think.
The only difference is that today, some of these app updates may well have been malicious updates, pushed to some of the Sky UK official Android apps. As reported by PC Pro and Android Police; the Sky Go, Sky+, SKY WiFi, and Sky News apps all appeared to be targeted in the attacks that involved updates being pushed to the Google Play Store for these applications. READ ON »
Personal information security has been a prime concern for computer users since nearly the beginning of computing itself. Malicious users find exploits and develop viruses, trojans, and rootkits to gain control of our devices to use them for their own advantage. This not only costs us in form of degraded performance and potential data usage costs, but can also have more dire consequences such as our financial information being sniffed and used to withdraw money from our accounts, or identity theft that could land us in serious trouble with law enforcement.
Previously, these issues were major concerns primarily on desktop computers, but with the massive popularity in mobile devices, such malicious individuals and groups have now started targeting popular mobile platforms. While Google has included better security measures in the latest versions of Android and several antivirus vendors have also developed solutions to get rid of such malware from our devices, it’s always a good idea to secure our devices as much as possible to prevent any security breaches from happening in the first place. To help you with this, XDA Senior Member x942 has developed SecDroid, an Android app that secures your devices against several intrusion methods.
SecDroid achieves this by disabling several services on your device that most users will not require to be running all the time. These services include SSH, SSHD, Telnet NC (net cat), and Ping, to keep others from gaining access to your device via a remote terminal. SecDroid also disables Package Manager so that no apps can be installed remotely to your device (you can still install them from Market or using APK files directly on the device itself). Lastly, it also allows you to disable ADBD (the ADB service running on the device that allows you to connect to it through command line from a remote computer) until the next reboot.
SecDroid is currently in active development, and this is its first alpha release. The developer has also released the source code of SecDroid under the GPLv2 license. You can find more details and the download link in the forum thread.
It doesn’t always make the front pages, but device security is still one of the most important topics for Android users. Whether it’s for protection from exploits that can brick a phone or apps that have permissions they really don’t need, users and developers are always on the lookout for potentially dangerous applications. One app some use is XDA Forum Member svyat‘s PDroid, which is now ported to the Verizon Samsung Galaxy S III.
XDA Recognized Developer TrevE has released the port for the Verizon Galaxy S III. It functions just like PDroid is supposed to. For those who don’t know what it does exactly, here’s an explanation from TrevE:
PDroid is a (awesome) security framework similar to superuser but allows selective blocking of app permissions. It creates a “proxy” between the actual permissions and the PDroid framework which allow passing of different return data.
Because of the proxy created this method is better than apps which just remove permissions from manifests because it should not cause any fcs- Apps will never know the difference. It also allows patching permissions such as location/android id/camera to return spoofed data.
PDroid is a very complex mod across many parts of framework.
In more simple terms, PDroid allows users to control what permissions applications can have. This is an excellent app because it can stop a malicious app dead in its tracks, before it has a chance to do any damage by accessing features or information that you don’t want to grant. And since it uses a proxy method to prevent unwanted access, this prevents the force closes present with other methods of permission blocking. Any Android user who wants to micromanage app permissions should definitely give this a look.
To learn more, go to the original thread.
December 29, 2012 By: Former Writer
Lock screen security, and Android device security in general, is a frequent topic of conversation. While lock screens are becoming more functional with features such as the now-standard lock screen widgets, security remains about as easy as ever to work around. This is an issue that may be eased with a new app called NFC Secure Beta.
XDA Senior Member r2DoesInc has released NFC Secure Beta. What the application does is force users to use a NFC tag to unlock the phone. However, it doesn’t replace the current lock screen entirely. As r2DoesInc explains:
NFC Secure is not a lockscreen. It’s a supplement to your current lockscreen. Once you pass your lockscreen and enter the actual device, NFC Secure kicks in. When this happens, you are 100% locked out of the device, no way to get past it, even with a reboot, unless you have your key.
So, along with a good lock screen password, NFC Secure can make it next to impossible for the average Joe to get into your device. This renders tricks like looking at smudges on the screen to discern an unlock pattern useless. Also, if users are worried that they lose their NFC key, the app is capable of supporting multiples, so spares can be made.
This is a lot more information about NFC Secure that can be found in the original thread.
December 27, 2012 By: jerdog
Security applications are a dime-a-dozen these days. While it normally wouldn’t be noteworthy to have a new entry into the fray, this one is different in one very important way: The developer knows none of your information. AeGis, which comes to us from XDA Recognized Developer Decad3nce, is unlike competing applications in that it does not require a data connection, you are not asked to log in to anything, and you do not need to register and pay a large firm a yearly fee in order to use the below features:
- Ability to remotely lock your device via SMS
- Ability to remotely enable sound on your device via SMS
- Ability to remotely locate your device via SMS
- Ability to remotely wipe your device via SMS
- Ability to lock application with a password
In what may be the best feature of them all, Decad3nce has chosen to completely open-source the application, giving you the ability to fork and add new features as you see fit. AeGis utilizes the latest in Android’s Holo design principles, and requires Android 4.x.