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Update vulnerability in third-party SDK exposes some Android apps to attacks

Lucian Constantin | Dec. 11, 2013
Attackers could force apps using the HomeBase SDK to download and execute rogue code, researchers from Bitdefender said

The researchers claim the HomeBase SDK doesn't actually need all of the permissions it requests, but Widdit disagrees.

"As a rich and robust lock screen platform, HomeBase does require a relatively high number of permissions in order for it to deliver its full experience in an optimal way," Noam Mor, the head of media relations at Widdit said via email. "That being said, our platform is very flexible and allows developers the option to exclude some of the permissions if they wish to request less permissions (but affect functionality)."

Mor pointed to a blog post where the permissions required by the HomeBase SDK are explained.

While the SDK's permissions will remain in place, the company plans to resolve the security issues with the update mechanism that could allow attackers to abuse them.

"As part of our security enhancement efforts we are in the process of migrating to SSL based communication," Mor said. "This step will prevent unwanted or malicious access to the remote update, and migration completion is scheduled for the end of this month."

The implementation of code integrity verification has also been put on the development roadmap for the first quarter of 2014 in order to prevent any other possible vulnerabilities with the updates, Mor said.

Widdit is in contact with the Bitdefender researchers and appreciates their feedback, the representative said. Widdit takes security very seriously, but hasn't received any reports of attacks like the ones described by Bitdefender, he said.

A simple way to mitigate this type of attack would be for the company to sign their updates with a digital certificate which could then be used by the embedded SDK to verify their authenticity, Botezatu said. "If the certificate is not valid or is missing, then the application should not execute the downloaded code."

According to Bitdefender, 1,122 out of 1,640 applications that use the HomeBase SDK and were collected by the company over time from Google Play, are no longer in the marketplace.

"We don't have a clear date when each application has been taken down, nor do we know the reason," Botezatu said. "All we know is that they are not online anymore."

"We aren't aware of any Play Store suspensions at all," Mor said. "We do realize that a large part of the developers who work with us use several monetization solutions. We're also aware of the fact that a lot of monetization companies are banned by Google due to it's new ToS [terms of service]. We can only conclude that those apps were banned because of the fact they implemented their app with other SDKs."

Google did not immediately respond to an inquiry on whether it ever removed applications from Google Play specifically because they used Widdit's HomeBase SDK.

 

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