Feeds

Experts cast runes on Google phone security

Paranoid Android

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

Google's plans in new mobile phone platforms may not be much further advanced than slideware, but security experts are already picking apart the initiative to look for potential holes. Interest is focused on whether or not Android will be totally open or adopt an (arguably more secure) system of signing approved applications.

Some mobile security specialists are comparing the track Google has taken with its Android platform for mobile computing with the locked-down approach adopted by Apple.

Android is still in the preliminary stages of development but Google's announcement of the platform, while thin on details, gives a basic idea of how it might shape up. Android consists of a software stack for mobile featuring an operating system (based on Linux), middleware, and some default applications like a browser. The search engine giant is promoting the platform through the Open Handset Alliance.

Google is seeking to encourage developers to write for the platform. Applications will be developed using Java and use a framework provided by Google including its own Dalvik virtual machine.

The framework is based on an open source model. Google sees this as a way to bring more openness to the traditional closed mobile environment, allowing anyone to write applications that make use of the functionality available on handsets. That means, at least theoretically, that a potentially malign application could call upon any of the phone's core functionality such as making calls or sending text messages.

The security debate has focused around the open design philosophy behind Android.

Mikko Hyppönen, chief research officer at F-Secure, writes: "The key issue here is whether Android will go for totally open systems or whether they will adopt a system for signing approved applications (such as Symbian)."

"If unsigned and unknown applications written by anyone have full access to phone features, we smell trouble."

Hyppönen is quick to emphasise that his comments are preliminary. The full specifications of Android phones will be unclear until devices based on the technology become available in late 2008. Mobile malware attacks are unlikely to follow soon after, however insecure Android-based phone may or may not be.

"It's pretty guaranteed that no criminal attacks will take place until the installed base for Android has become large enough to interest the bad guys financially. This might never happen," Hyppönen said, adding that Apple's iPhone has already achieved a significant-enough user base for iPhone malware to become a possibility.

Eric Chien, a security consultant at Symantec, who (like Hyppönen) has taken a long-term interest in mobile security, notes that Apple's decision to lock down the iPhone mitigates against the possibility of malware being allowed to run on the device (at least until it is unlocked). By contrast Android's security model is based on querying users about whether or not applications are permitted to run.

"Because Android is still in development, making predictions about the threat landscape to Android is a bit premature, but history has shown us that a prompting model is far from effective," he writes.

Chien outlines some hypothetical attack scenarios, based on what we know from the world of Windows-infecting pathogens.

"The vast majority of Windows malware requires user interaction, some of which is invoked by social engineering and much of it simply because the user isn't sure what option to choose. Imagine that you download a game and the game requests the ability to send SMS messages from your phone in order to post your high scores to a central server. You agree, but little do you know that the application is also sending SMSes to a high-cost pay number." ®

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
Sea-Me-We 5 construction starts
New sub cable to go live 2016
Crouching tiger, FAST ASLEEP dragon: Smugglers can't shift iPhone 6s
China's grey market reports 'sluggish' sales of Apple mobe
EE coughs to BROKEN data usage metrics BLUNDER that short-changes customers
Carrier apologises for 'inflated' measurements cockup
Comcast: Help, help, FCC. Netflix and pals are EXTORTIONISTS
The others guys are being mean so therefore ... monopoly all good, yeah?
Surprise: if you work from home you need the Internet
Buffer-rage sends Aussies out to experience road rage
EE buys 58 Phones 4u stores for £2.5m after picking over carcass
Operator says it will safeguard 359 jobs, plans lick of paint
MOST iPhone strokers SPURN iOS 8: iOS 7 'un-updatening' in 5...4...
Guess they don't like our battery-draining update?
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.