Feeds

BUSTED! Secret app on millions of phones logs key taps

Researcher says seeing is believing

Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable

An Android app developer has published what he says is conclusive proof that millions of smartphones are secretly monitoring the key presses, geographic locations, and received messages of its users.

In a YouTube video posted on Monday, Trevor Eckhart showed how software from a Silicon Valley company known as Carrier IQ recorded in real time the keys he pressed into a stock EVO handset, which he had reset to factory settings just prior to the demonstration. Using a packet sniffer Android debug options while his device was in airplane mode, he demonstrated how each numeric tap and every received text message is logged by the software.

Ironically, he says, the Carrier IQ software recorded the “hello world” dispatch even before it was displayed on his handset.

Eckhart then connected the device to a Wi-Fi network and pointed his browser at Google. Even though he denied the search giant's request that he share his physical location, the Carrier IQ software recorded it. The secret app then recorded the precise input of his search query – again, “hello world” – even though he typed it into a page that uses the SSL, or secure sockets layer, protocol to encrypt data sent between the device and the servers.

“We can see that Carrier IQ is querying these strings over my wireless network [with] no 3G connectivity and it is reading HTTPS,” the 25-year-old Eckhart says.

The video was posted four days after Carrier IQ withdrew legal threats against Eckhart for calling its software a “rootkit.” The Connecticut-based programmer said the characterization is accurate because the software is designed to obscure its presence by bypassing typical operating-system functions.

In an interview last week, Carrier IQ VP of Marketing Andrew Coward rejected claims the software posed a privacy threat because it never captured key presses.

“Our technology is not real time,” he said at the time. "It's not constantly reporting back. It's gathering information up and is usually transmitted in small doses.”

Coward went on to say that Carrier IQ was a diagnostic tool designed to give network carriers and device manufacturers detailed information about the causes of dropped calls and other performance issues.

Eckhart said he chose the HTC phone purely for demonstration purposes. Blackberrys, other Android-powered handsets, and smartphones from Nokia contain the same snooping software, he claims.

The 17-minute video concluded with questions, including: “Why does SMSNotify get called and show to be dispatching text messages to [Carrier IQ]?” and “Why is my browser data being read, especially HTTPS on my Wi-Fi?”

The Register has put the same questions to Carrier IQ, and will update this post if the company responds. ®

Update

More than 19 hours after this post was first published, Carrier IQ representatives have yet to respond to a request for comment. Meanwhile, computer scientists have uncovered an unrelated Android glitch that could also invade smartphone users' privacy, and iOS Devices may be running Carrier IQ also.

Follow dangoodin001

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

More from The Register

next story
Mozilla fixes CRITICAL security holes in Firefox, urges v31 upgrade
Misc memory hazards 'could be exploited' - and guess what, one's a Javascript vuln
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

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
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.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
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.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.