Lately, Google’s Android Market has attracted the attention of the security community for not vetting or ensuring the authenticity of the applications posted on its app market. Earlier this year, the Junos Pulse Global Threat Center team performed a thorough analysis of the Android Market and unveiled numerous malware applications disguised as utilities or game applications.
Since then, several research studies of the malicious nature of applications on Android Market have surfaced and all the studies concluded that the Android Market has been hosting a large number of malicious applications, which forced Google to enforce a “Remote Kill” switch for the malicious applications. Even though Google has yanked all of the disclosed, malicious applications from its Android Market, due to lack of policing of applications, malware writers haven’t been dissuaded from uploading them again under different names or developer accounts. In spring 2010, a commercial spyware developer posted a spyware application on Android Market with the name “Smartphone for Android”, which was later withdrawn by Google; however, two weeks later it reappeared as “Mobile Nanny” on Android Market.
Figure 1: Mobile Spy spyware for Android posted on Android Market with different name
The Android Market faced its first public embarrassment during the 2009 Christmas vacation. A programmer with the nickname “droid09” offered more than 50 mobile banking applications for sale through the Android Market. It was later discovered that these applications were phishing applications created for harvesting user’s banking credentials. Even though Apple vets applications before they appear in the App Store, the risk still exists. In July 2008, a popular game, “Aurora Feint” for iPhone, was yanked by Apple for uploading users contact lists to remote servers.
In summary, threats posed by mobile applications exist –even if an application is hosted by Apple’s App Store or RIM’s App World both known for vetting submitted applications to ensure that the applications meet guidelines. To justify this claim, this article shows a potential malicious application on the “BlackBerry App World”, which in our knowledge is the first reporting of a malicious application on the App World.
RIM holds a strong reputation for offering the most secure smartphone devices to the market, which indeed it does. However, there is a serious lack of guidance from IT administrators and company management on mobile security issues —indeed they themselves are struggling to cope up with the expectations of managing different smartphone platforms in their enterprise networks to ensure continued productivity and efficiency. In the meantime, the app explosion for smartphones has become a serious concern for IT administrators because all of the various smartphone platforms are susceptible to the threat of rogue applications.
As reported, RIM scrutinizes the submitted applications and may accept or deny the application at their discretion:
The application disclosed herein as a malicious application certainly violates the following App World Vendor Guideline, and as such has been tagged as Spyware by the Junos Pulse Global Threat Center.
Ok, take a deep breath, let it sink in, are you ready?
The application shown in fig. 2 is a “tracking application” that allows user to track the BlackBerry device’s location remotely. Despite its potential utility, it can be misused as a “Spyware” due to its stealthy mode of operation on the device. After installation, the application prompts the user with a registration screen (see fig. 3) and thereafter, the application runs in a silent mode – without any icon. The information entered on the registration screen is used to access a website where the GPS location is logged, as shown in fig.4. To summarize, this application can be installed and configured to act as a stealthy “GPS tracker” in less than 10 seconds –isn’t that quick?
Figure 2: Screenshot of the Stealthy GPS application on the APP World
Figure 3: Screenshots of application registration screens after installation
Figure 4: Screenshot of logged GPS coordinates of the test device from the website
According to the article on Network World — the Ford Motor Company doesn’t support Android devices because of the open app market scenario that can host malicious applications. In reality, the closed systems also cannot certify that the applications hosted on their App Store or Market are not implicated in foul play.
The tipping point for mobile applications has yet to be seen and I am certain that more malicious applications will be disclosed in the “BlackBerry App World”. Enterprises are enamored with the possibilities of increased productivity and efficiency due to mobility, and are pushing their IT departments to catch up with innovation and productivity, at the cost of security. Often times, security becomes a priority only after a breach.
Finally, regardless of any level and kind of security, there is no substitute for common sense and a healthy dose of skepticism. Users can do themselves a wealth of good by simply understanding the capabilities of applications they are downloading.
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