Feeds

Hacker kills his own Pwn2Own bug for Android phones

Android Market remote install peril remains

High performance access to file storage

Updated A vulnerability that a researcher planned to use to compromise an Android cellphone at a hacking contest later this week got squashed after Google fixed the underlying bug in the Android Market.

Duo Security CTO Jon Oberheide notified Google of the XSS, or cross-site scripting, bug in the application bazaar because he didn't believe the vulnerability would qualify under terms of the Pwn2Own contest that is scheduled to start on Wednesday. The “incredibly low-hanging naive persistent XSS” allowed attackers to to remotely install malicious apps on Android handsets by tricking users into clicking a link on their phones or computer browsers while logged into a Google account.

Oberheide later learned that the vulnerability didn't run afoul of contest rules, allowing him to collect $15,000 and a free handset if he was successful. But he recently discovered Google closed the security hole. The $1,337 awarded to Oberheide under Google's bug bounty program, is little consolation, he wrote in a blog post published on Monday.

“So while I'm missing out on a good sum of money by not winning the Pwn2Own contest, Google did award a bounty of $1337 for reporting the vulnerability,” he said. “I'm more disappointed that I won't be able to win Pwn2Own with a lame XSS, which would be absolutely hilarious since Pwn2Own usually brings out the most exciting and technical exploits of the year.”

Adding to his disappointment, Oberheide said, is the decision by Google not to make changes to a feature that allows users to install new apps directly to their handsets while browsing the Android Market on their computer browsers. The feature offers no on-device notification warning users of what's about to happen and prompting them for permission. As a result, similar remote execution vulnerabilities will plague the mobile OS again each time certain types of XSS bugs are discovered in the Market.

“Instead of trying to play Whac-a-Mole with XSS bugs and trying to prevent them from cropping up again in the Market, they need to address this issue at the root, where if there's any sort of automated installs to the phone, there should at least be some simple on-device confirmation that the user has to click in order to proceed with that installation,” Oberheide told The Register.

Oberheide said he has scoured the Market for other XSS bugs over the past week and so far has found none that are suitable. XSS vulnerabilities are so common, though, that it wouldn't be surprising if more are discovered. Pwn2Own which runs Wednesday through Friday at the CanSecWest security conference in Vancouver, is now in its fifth year.

In an email, a Google spokesman wrote: "Installation notifications appear on the device as an alert to users when the browser version of Android Market is used to install applications. It's not completely silent. It's also not clear that other XSS bugs will be found in this particular mechanism to cause similar issues."

In response, Oberheide said that the users would see the notification only after the malicious app had been installed and only if she happens to be looking at the phone shortly after installation.

"However, given that we trigger the install and execute our app when the user clicks our malicious link, it's trivial to root the device and immediately remove any notifications that were present," he added.

The Google spokesman declined to elaborate.

Oberheide's report comes a week after Google removed more than 50 apps from the Android Market after third-party researchers identified them as malicious. Google eventually zapped the data-stealing trojans from Android phones using a remote kill switch baked into to the mobile platform, but there's little to prevent similar attacks, since Google performs no vetting of apps submitted by third-party developers. ®

This article was updated to add comment from Google and Oberheide's response to it. It was later updated to reflect the name change of the firm Oberheide works for.

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Obama allows NSA to exploit 0-days: report
If the spooks say they need it, they get it
Parent gabfest Mumsnet hit by SSL bug: My heart bleeds, grins hacker
Natter-board tells middle-class Britain to purée its passwords
Web data BLEEDOUT: Users to feel the pain as Heartbleed bug revealed
Vendors and ISPs have work to do updating firmware - if it's possible to fix this
OpenSSL Heartbleed: Bloody nose for open-source bleeding hearts
Bloke behind the cockup says not enough people are helping crucial crypto project
One year on: diplomatic fail as Chinese APT gangs get back to work
Mandiant says past 12 months shows Beijing won't call off its hackers
Call of Duty 'fragged using OpenSSL's Heartbleed exploit'
So it begins ... or maybe not, says one analyst
German space centre endures cyber attack
Chinese code retrieved but NSA hack not ruled out
Experian subsidiary faces MEGA-PROBE for 'selling consumer data to fraudster'
US attorneys general roll up sleeves, snap on gloves
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
HP ArcSight ESM solution helps Finansbank
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.