Feeds

Oi, Android devs! Facebook wants your apps to be more secure

Open source crypto library helps lock down private data

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup

Facebook has released the source code of a software library that's designed to make it easier for developers to implement fast, secure cryptography in their Android apps.

Dubbed Conceal, the library was developed for a limited range of tasks with the specific needs of Android developers in mind, allowing app makers to include encryption without being cryptography experts.

"Unlike other libraries, which provide a wide range of encryption algorithms and options, Conceal prefers to abstract this choice and include sensible defaults," Facebook engineer Subodh Iyengar wrote in a blog post. "We think this makes sense because encryption can be very tricky to get right."

Facebook hasn't tried to write its own crypto code from scratch. Rather, Conceal takes advantage of a number of cherry-picked algorithms from the industry-standard OpenSSL open source library.

By eliminating the parts of OpenSSL it didn't need, however, Facebook managed to slim down its encryption code to a mere 85KB. By comparison, the full OpenSSL library takes up around 1MB when compiled for ARM chips.

The algorithms that Conceal uses are also fast, even on low-powered ARM chips. In Facebook's own tests on a low-end Samsung Galaxy Y smartphone, Conceal performed significantly better than both stock Java cryptography and the Bouncy Castle library.

Graph showing benchmarks of Facebook's Conceal security library

Not just easy, but fast: Conceal can encrypt and decrypt data many times faster than other methods

Conceal offers up these algorithms via a simple API that abstracts away most of the choices that other libraries require developers to make. Pass an I/O stream to Conceal, and Conceal returns a wrapped stream that's automatically decrypted or encrypted as it's read or written.

That means Conceal won't be useful for every encryption application, but it will work for a few use cases that crop up frequently on Android. Foremost, it can be used to encrypt data that's stored on SD cards, which is why Facebook invented it in the first place.

"What many people don't realize is that Android's privacy model treats the SD card storage as a publicly accessible directory," Iyengar wrote. "This allows data to be read by any app (with the right permissions). Thus, external storage is normally not a good place to store private information."

Facebook, obviously, deals with a lot of private information. Thus, the Facebook app for Android doesn't write anything to the SD card without encrypting it with Conceal. It's enough to make one wonder how many other Android apps also encrypt their data – but now they can.

Iyengar says the current version of Conceal is officially supported on Android 2.3 "Gingerbread" and up, although it should also work on Android 2.2 "Froyo" devices. Facebook has released the code as open source under a BSD license, and it's available now on Github, here. ®

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
Why has the web gone to hell? Market chaos and HUMAN NATURE
Tim Berners-Lee isn't happy, but we should be
Linux turns 23 and Linus Torvalds celebrates as only he can
No, not with swearing, but by controlling the release cycle
Apple promises to lift Curse of the Drained iPhone 5 Battery
Have you tried turning it off and...? Never mind, here's a replacement
Sin COS to tan Windows? Chinese operating system to debut in autumn – report
Development alliance working on desktop, mobe software
Eat up Martha! Microsoft slings handwriting recog into OneNote on Android
Freehand input on non-Windows kit for the first time
Linux kernel devs made to finger their dongles before contributing code
Two-factor auth enabled for Kernel.org repositories
This is how I set about making a fortune with my own startup
Would you leave your well-paid job to chase your dream?
prev story

Whitepapers

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.
Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Scale data protection with your virtual environment
To scale at the rate of virtualization growth, data protection solutions need to adopt new capabilities and simplify current features.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?