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Android security, market place under fire

Researchers stick fingers in, developers put hands out

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The security of Google's Android is under fire from security researchers who reckon they've identified a browser flaw that could compromise the platform.

Meanwhile, users of the first Android handset are busy venting their indignation at being asked to pay for applications.

The security issue is a buffer-overflow problem in the browser identified by researchers from Independent Security Evaluators, who blame the problem on Google's use of old open-source packages. The researchers say it has the potential to reach through the browser and execute arbitrary code.

Independent Security Evaluators have form, having identified security problems in Apple's iPhone, and informed Google of the problems last week. The researchers aren't sharing details of the flaw, but feel that announcing its existence is in the public interest - and in the interest of their own careers, obviously. The flaw requires a mark to be tricked into visiting a malicious website, but once there the site can access any information available to the browser - stored passwords, cookies and such.

The researchers note that the layered security of Android limits the damage the flaw can cause: "They can not control other, unrelated aspects of the phone, such as dialing the phone directly. This is in contrast, for example, with Apple's iPhone which does not have this application sandboxing feature and allows access to all features available to the user when compromised."

Google is apparently working on a fix, hopefully to be deployed before anyone manages to take advantage in the real world - perhaps as a way to help pay for application development.

The potential flaw means users of the G1, the only Android handset to date, have something else to moan about. They're already complaining that some applications available through the Marketplace are asking for money before running - not what they expected from an open-source device.

The problem is that the Android Marketplace won't allow developers to charge for applications, everything has to be free until Google gets round to setting up a payment system next year. Some developers are fine with that, but others are old-fashioned enough to want money, so have uploaded apps that list as free but demand payment once installed.

Clearly this is against the ethos that demands everything is gratis, and has G1 users up in arms demanding that uploaders be tarred and feathered at least. But those same users should probably worry less about their failure to understand open source, and be more concerned with the latest security threat to assault Google's platform.®

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