Feeds

Slapdash SSL code puts tons of top Android Play Store apps in hack peril

Man-in-the-middles all round!

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

Sloppy programming, poor patching, and unreliable trust engines are rife within Android apps, according to a new study. In short, millions smartphone users are potentially wide open to man-in-the-middle attacks, it's claimed.

Researchers at security firm FireEye went through the 1,000 most popular Android applications from the Google Play store and found that a large majority of them were open to at least man-in-the-middle attacks, thanks to faulty SSL error and certificate handling. For the top 10,000 apps that figure was 60 per cent.

"The Android ecosystem is all about communicating, and right now it's screaming for help," the team said in a blog post. "That's because SSL vulnerabilities and the Man-In-The-Middle (MITM) attacks they enable are wreaking havoc on data security."

The researchers examined the code for three basic SSL security errors: trust managers that don't check digital certificates are even valid, apps don't verify the hostname of the remote server is correct, and code that ignores SSL errors when using Webkit – errors that flag up when security integrity checks have failed.

Trust management engines not checking the identity of backend servers is by far the most common problem, and essentially means miscreants can masquerade as legit systems to siphon off data, and so on. This occurred in 73 per cent of the top 1,000 apps and 40 per cent of the top 10,000 applications in Google's download zone.

The second most common flaw was Webkit errors, affecting 77 per cent of the top 1,000 apps and 13 per cent of the top 10,000. Meanwhile hostname checking errors were in the single figures for both test groups.

Ad networks are an increasingly attractive attack vector for man-in-the-middle attacks, either to hijack a connection to install malware or suck away viewers to other sites. The team found the two top advertising libraries in the sample set – Flurry and Chartboost – had unreliable trust managers.

Both pieces of software have now been fixed, but that doesn't mean third-party app coders have upgraded, rebuilt their code and released new versions.

"Many issues in SSL and cryptography arise from how applications are tested and released. During development, many software shops find it useful to disable normal validation of SSL to facilitate testing," Patrick Thomas, security consultant at and risk management company Neohapsis told El Reg in a statement.

"This is a dangerous practice because it requires that someone remember to turn it back on before shipping - an easy mistake to make with huge consequences. This sort of research highlights the importance of having security expertise tightly integrated with development teams, and performing specific security testing (in addition to functional testing) before release." ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
FYI: OS X Yosemite's Spotlight tells Apple EVERYTHING you're looking for
It's on by default – didn't you read the small print?
Russian hackers exploit 'Sandworm' bug 'to spy on NATO, EU PCs'
Fix imminent from Microsoft for Vista, Server 2008, other stuff
Edward who? GCHQ boss dodges Snowden topic during last speech
UK spies would rather 'walk' than do 'mass surveillance'
Microsoft pulls another dodgy patch
Redmond makes a hash of hashing add-on
'LulzSec leader Aush0k' found to be naughty boy not worthy of jail
15 months home detention leaves egg on feds' faces as they grab for more power
China is ALREADY spying on Apple iCloud users, claims watchdog
Attack harvests users' info at iPhone 6 launch
Carders punch holes through Staples
Investigation launched into East Coast stores
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.