Feeds

Security shocker: Android apps send private data in clear

Facebook's persistent SSL isn't

The Power of One eBook: Top reasons to choose HP BladeSystem

Cellphones running the Android operating system fail to encrypt data sent to and from Facebook and Google Calendar, shortcomings that could jeopardize hundreds of millions of users' privacy, a computer scientist says.

In a simple exercise for his undergraduate security class, Rice University professor Dan Wallach connected a packet sniffer to his network and observed the traffic sent to and from his Android handset when he used various apps available for Google's mobile platform. What he saw surprised him.

The official Facebook app, for instance, transmitted everything except for the password in the clear, Wallach blogged on Tuesday. This meant that all private messages, photo uploads and other transactions were visible to eavesdroppers, even though the account had been configured to use Facebook's recently unveiled always-on SSL encryption setting to prevent snooping over insecure networks.

“People for right or wrong treat Facebook as something that's more personal and private,” Wallach told The Reg. “With Facebook, we never saw a password going back and forth, but there was unencrypted traffic, which is interesting because I've set my Facebook web client to use their new SSL-all-the-time feature. But that does't reflect onto the Facebook app on Android.”

A Facebook spokesman said: “After launching SSL for the site we are still testing across all Facebook platforms, and hope to provide it as an option for our mobile users in the coming months.” The company warns users to exercise caution when using unsecured Wi-Fi networks, but as far as we can tell, Facebook has never explicitly said its smartphone app fails to encrypt traffic.

Google Calendar showed a similar carelessness in Wallach's experiment by also sending and receiving data in the clear. That makes it possible for snoops to see your schedule when the service is accessed on unsecured networks.

A Google spokesman said in an email: “We plan to begin encrypting traffic to Google Calendar on Android in a future maintenance release. When possible, we recommend using encrypted WiFi networks.” He didn't say how long users would have to wait.

Wallach found a few other apps that took a cavalier approach to user privacy. The SoundHound song-recognition app, for instance, transmits the user's GPS coordinates down to the street block to the service each time a request is made, even though the app works just fine without that information. A service called ShopSaavy tracks the same details, but at least with that app, the argument can be made that the user's physical location is relevant to the service.

None of the apps Wallach tested transmitted passwords in the clear.

Shortly after Wallach published his findings, F-Secure researcher Sean Sullivan blogged about yet another shortcoming in Facebook's SSL offerings. Based on his experiences, it appears rogue Facebook apps can disable the feature. ®

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications

More from The Register

next story
DARPA-derived secure microkernel goes open source tomorrow
Hacker-repelling, drone-protecting code will soon be yours to tweak as you see fit
How long is too long to wait for a security fix?
Synology finally patches OpenSSL bugs in Trevor's NAS
Don't look, Snowden: Security biz chases Tails with zero-day flaws alert
Exodus vows not to sell secrets of whistleblower's favorite OS
Roll out the welcome mat to hackers and crackers
Security chap pens guide to bug bounty programs that won't fail like Yahoo!'s
HIDDEN packet sniffer spy tech in MILLIONS of iPhones, iPads – expert
Don't panic though – Apple's backdoor is not wide open to all, guru tells us
Researcher sat on critical IE bugs for THREE YEARS
VUPEN waited for Pwn2Own cash while IE's sandbox leaked
Four fake Google haxbots hit YOUR WEBSITE every day
Goog the perfect ruse to slip into SEO orfice
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.