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Boffins propose security shim for Android

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An international group of researchers believes Android needs more extensible security, and is offering up a framework they hope either Google or mobe-makers will take for a spin.

The project is described in this paper slated for the Usenix Security Symposium on Friday in San Diego.

The researchers from Germany's Technische Universität Darmstadt and NC State University explain that while Android APIs are rich and nuanced, each API has an impact on the underlying security model.

And there's another problem the researchers, led by William Enck, identify: while World+Dog has ideas about improving Android security, they need firmware changes. Instead, they propose an architecture that other security fixes can plug into. That means rooting the phone once (if nobody comes along for the ride), or not at all if the capability is build into phones.

As they write: “The Android Security Modules (ASM) framework … provides a set of authorisation hooks to build reference monitors for Android security … It provides researchers a standardised interface for security architectures and will potentially lead to field enhancement of devices without modifying the system firmware … if adopted by Google”.

Detailing their design goals, the researchers note that the ASM framework needs to maintain existing Android security (offering more restrictive security without breaking things like the sandbox), protect the integrity of the kernel, and support multiple authorisation modules without imposing a performance overhead.

The idea of multiple authorisation modules would let security on an Android device be split between personal and business use.

In addition, the ASM could give more fine-grained security and/or privacy control to end users. Enck explains in this NC State University release:

“Security modules can also enhance consumer privacy. The framework provides callbacks that can filter, modify, or anonymise data before it is shared with third-party apps, in order to protect personal information.

“For instance consider an app like Whatsapp, which usually copies all your contacts to its server – which is not needed for it to function.” ASM would let users restrict the app to receive only the data it must have to function. ®

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