Improving Anti-Theft Measures for Mobile Devices

I’m pleased to say that the latest version of the GSMA SG.24 Anti-Theft Device Feature Requirements has been published. Many members of the Device Security Group I chair at the GSMA have been personally committed to trying to reduce the problem of mobile theft over many years. This represents just one small part of these continued efforts.

There is no magic solution to the problem of mobile theft as I’ve discussed many times (some listed below). The pragmatic approach we’ve taken is to openly discuss this work with all the interested parties including OS vendors such as Apple, Google and Microsoft as well as to reach out to Police and government particularly in the US and the UK where the subject has been of high interest. We’ve taken their feedback and incorporated it into the work. Everyone has a part to play in reducing theft of mobile devices, not least the owner of the device itself.

 

Some extra resources:

Some previous blogs on mobile theft:

Victim blaming when it comes to fraud

I was quoted today in a Guardian article after the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe suggested that fraud victims should not be compensated by banks in cyber crime situations.

Image of what people are being conditioned to think a cyber criminal looks like! (Or perhaps I should have gone with hacker in hoodie?!)

His point is that people use weak passwords and don’t upgrade their systems so end up as easy pickings for online criminals. Whilst of course users need to take responsibility for their own actions (or inaction) it is nowhere near as simple as that, especially when it comes to things like deliberate social engineering of people and website insecurity.

My full quote was as follows: “I think the Met Chief’s comments are short-sighted. There are many reasons consumers are defrauded and a lot of those are not really things that they can control. To trivialise these to all being about user concerns misses the point. How does a consumer control the theft of their data from a website for example? We all have a role to play and a lot of work is underway in bodies like the worldwide web consortium (W3C) to reduce the use of passwords and to increase the use of hardware-backed security. The banks are doing a good job in a difficult environment but they are ultimately responsible for identifying and preventing fraud issues when they occur.”

The W3C’s work on web authentication is underway, which will standardise the work of the FIDO Alliance for the web in order to help eliminate the password. This of course will take a while and we won’t fully eliminate passwords from the web for many years. To further protect consumers, there is another effort to bring hardware security backing to important elements of the web, this will also hopefully be chartered to do that in W3C. In the software updates world, Microsoft have led the way on desktops and Apple in mobile for ensuring people are patched quickly and effectively. We still have a long way to go and I’m leading some work in the mobile industry, through the GSMA to try and make things better.

The Met and the wider police have a key role in investigating cyber crime, something they’ve not done well at all over the past few years, so they have failed consumers repeatedly. Blaming users is something akin to throwing stones in glasshouses.

How could voicemail insecurity affect your Facebook, Google or Yahoo! account?

It is nearly three years since the News of the World voicemail hacking scandal erupted (a case that’s in court right now). The blog and article I wrote at the time are still the most popular posts I’ve written. I was involved in drafting a set of guidelines for network operators which was published very soon after.

I was therefore quite surprised when a friend sent me the following link which explains how web application security researcher Shubham Shah managed to use voicemail vulnerabilities within network operators to exploit two-factor authentication (2FA) for some pretty major services (e.g. Google, Yahoo!, LinkedIn and so on). The way that 2FA is setup sometimes is that it will call your mobile number. Obviously an automated system isn’t usually setup to determine if you actually answered the call, so the code can go through to voicemail. And that’s how the attack goal is achieved. If the attacker can get into your voicemail account via a vulnerability in procedures or via CLI (Calling Line Identity) spoofing (i.e. faking your phone number), then they can get access to the rest of your life. Sounds simple and it is.

The phone theft debate continues…

A number of articles on mobile phone theft in the papers this weekend (20-21st July 2013). Regular readers will know that I’ve spoken quite a lot about phone theft in the past and at various events.

Snatch thefts are particularly high because the phone is ‘active’ at that point and not locked

The Daily Mail discusses the fact that Apple will publish the update later this year which will enable the “authentication lock” feature which will prevent the re-enablement of stolen phones after theft. It also mentions that GPS won’t be able to be disabled and the phone wiped – common methods used by thieves to prevent tracking of phones and one which also encouraged snatches of ‘active’ devices.

In the Daily Telegraph, Boris Johnson apparently said “Each of your companies promote the security of your devices, their software and information they hold, but we expect the same effort to go into hardware security so that we can make a stolen handset inoperable and so eliminate the illicit second-hand market in these products”.

This is badly off the mark – the problem is not the hardware security (this was addressed years ago and the work was acknowledged by the Home Secretary in 2008). The real problem is the export of devices – they are not blocked outside the UK so can continue to be used. This has nothing at all to do with hardware security, but it has everything to do with the ability to disable devices globally.

Other countries such as the US have only recently joined the party, claiming massive new street theft problems. The truth is this – phone theft will have always been a problem but it has only been recently that high profile violent robberies have forced them into action. What have the authorities been doing for the last ten or so years?

Apple’s authentication lock is not a kill switch

The terminology being used by politicians and the media is incorrect – preventing access to services is actually the opposite of reaching out and telling a device to ‘die’. Creating a real kill switch like that could in itself become a security problem. Imagine being able to turn off every phone in the world?

The reality is that the functionality for an “authentication lock” has only been technically possible in the past 5 years, because previously the manufacturer would have virtually no relationship with the customer. These days all the major OS providers ask users to sign up for an account with them to access services – and that’s the key. A relationship with the end user means that they can take action because they know when that phone gets used post-theft.

In the past, this simply wasn’t possible for the network operators. No operator (as far as I know) has presence in every country in the world, so it wouldn’t usually see a phone if it had been exported. Yes, the IMEI (identity of the device) could technically be shared with a global database called the Central Equipment Identity Register, but that one piece of data is not reliable for many reasons including a rash of counterfeit devices in some countries. However if a phone has to connect home over the web, it allows a lot of information to be checked and even shared with the rightful owner. Although it is not fool-proof, it is the right thing to do as it makes the phone less attractive to a thief. It does raise a question for the Android manufacturers particularly. Will they now ask Google to provide this functionality for them, or somehow try and build it into their own anti-theft find-and-locate apps (which will not be as robust as putting this in at the OS level)?

Next steps

Assuming the industry gets this right (and I hope they do), the ball will be back in government and Police hands. With rising theft figures, it is very easy to blame the manufacturers and operators. In reality this is a complex and largely social problem – people are still going to snatch expensive mobiles and try to use them to pay for things / use their functions etc and sell them. There’ll be a new, lucrative challenge for the cracking community to disable things like authentication lock. Up until 2011, the UK was the only country that had really done lots of things to help address theft in a proper manner including:

  • education for young people (youth-on-youth crime is very high)
  • posters in high crime areas like London
  • legal measures (making it illegal to change the IMEI number and possess the equipment to do so)
  • working with industry to harden devices (OMTP TR1)
  • encouraging industry to share information on theft (stolen IMEI numbers)
  • setting up a dedicated Police unit to target thieves

Mobile phone theft affects ordinary people – for that reason alone, politicians like Boris Johnson are going to continue to jump on what has been for years a populist bandwagon.

Chrome app security model is broken

I’m worried. I’m worried for a lot of users who’ve installed Chrome Apps. I was idly browsing the Apps in the Chrome web store the other day and came across the popular Super Mario 2 app on the front page (over 14k users). I have to admit, I actually installed the app (extension) myself, so let me explain the user (and security) experience.

I saw the big splash screen for the flash game and thought I’d give it a try. There is a big install button (see picture). Installation is pretty instantaneous. As I looked at the screen, I saw the box to the bottom right. “This extension can access: Your data on all websites, Your bookmarks, Your browsing history”. I think I can legitimately give my mental response as “WTF!?! This is a game! What does it need access to all this for?”. I then immediately took steps to remove the app.

Removing the app

So, disabling and removing the app was not as straightforward as you would think and this was also quite annoying. The Chrome web store also includes ‘extensions’ to Chrome (the extensions gallery). These are not easily visible to a user as to where they’re installed. In fact, you have to go to the settings->tools->extensions to do anything about it. The normal installed Chrome apps are listed when you open a new tab (ctrl-t), but this is not the case for extensions.

Permissions by default

Having removed the app, I set about investigating precisely what I had exposed this app to and the implications. Under the “Learn more” link, I found a full description of permissions that could be allowed by an application. I had to cross-reference these back to what the app / extension had asked for. The picture below shows the permissions (expanded) for the Super Mario 2 game.

I don’t want to go into great detail about the ins and outs of what some people would term “informed consent” or “notified consent”, but the bottom line is that a hell of a lot is being given away with very little responsibility on Google’s part. After all, to the average user, the Chrome ‘chrome’ is an implicit guarantor of trust. A Google app store, the apps must have been checked out by Google, right?

I also won’t go into the top line “All data on your computer…” which installs an NPAPI plug-in which is essentially gameover in terms of access to your computer. To be fair to Google, their developer guidelines (below) state that any applications using this permission will be manually checked by Google. However, there is an implication there that the other applications and extensions aren’t.

So let’s concentrate on the permissions that are requested by the game.

  1. The first one, ‘Your bookmarks’ allows not only reading, but modification and additions to your bookmarks. Want setting up for something anyone? A legitimate link to your bank going to a phishing site?
  2. The second item, ‘Your browsing history’ for most people is going to reveal a lot. Very quickly, a motivated attacker is going to know where you live from your searches on google maps, illnesses you’re suffering and so on. There is a note here that this permission request is ‘often a by-product of an item needing to opening new tabs or windows’. Most engineers would call this, frankly, a half-arsed effort.
  3. The third item, ‘Your data on all websites’ seems to give permission for the application to access anything that I’m accessing. Then, the big yellow caution triangle: ‘Besides seeing all your pages, this item could use your credentials (cookies) to request your data from websites’. Woah. Run that one by me again? That’s a pretty big one. So, basically your attacker is home and dry. Lots of different types of attack exist to intercept cookies which will automatically authenticate a user to a website. This has been demonstrated against high-profile sites such as twitter and facebook by using tools such as firesheep. Given that it is a major threat vector, surely Google would have properly considered this in their permissioning and application acceptance model?

It’s pretty obvious how potentially bad the Mario extension could be, particularly when this is supposed to be just a flash game. What really irks me though is the ‘permissions by default’ installation. You click one button and it’s there, almost immediately with no prompt. Now, I’m not the greatest fan of prompts, but there are times when prompts are appropriate and install time is actually one of them. It gives me the chance to review what I’ve selected and make a decision, especially if I hadn’t spotted that information on a busy and cluttered webpage. I hear you all telling me that no-one reviews permissions statements in Android apps, so why would they do it here and yes, I partially agree. Human behaviour is such that if there is a hurdle in front of us and the motivation to go after the fantastic ‘dancing pigs’ application is sufficiently high, we’ll jump over the hurdle at any cost. There is also a danger that developers will go down the route they have with facebook applications – users accept all the permissions or you don’t get dancing pigs. Users will more than likely choose dancing pigs (see here for more info on dancing pigs).

The beauty of a well designed policy framework

So we’re not in an ideal world and everyone knows that. I firmly believe that there is a role for arbitration. Users are not security experts and are unlikely to make sensible decisions when faced with a list of technical functionality. However, the user must be firmly in control of the ultimate decision of what goes on their machine. If users could have a little security angel on their shoulder to advise them what to do next, that would give them much more peace of mind. This is where configurable policy frameworks come in. A fair bit of work has gone on in this area in the mobile industry through OMTP’s BONDI (now merged with JIL to become WAC) and also in the W3C (and sadly just stopped in the Device APIs and Policy working group). The EU webinos project is also looking at a policy framework. The policy framework acts in its basic sense as a sort of firewall. It can be configured to blacklist or whitelist URIs to protect the user from maliciousness, or it can go to a greater level of detail and block access to specific functionality. In combination with well-designed APIs it can act in a better way than a firewall – rather than just blocking access it gives a response to the developer that the policy framework prevented access to the function (allowing the application to gracefully fail rather than just hang). Third party providers that the user trusts (such as child protection charities, anti-virus vendors and so on) could provide policy to the user which is tailored to their needs. ‘Never allow my location to be released’, ‘only allow googlemaps to see my location’, ‘only allow a list of companies selected by ‘Which?’ to use tracking cookies’ – these are automated policy rules which are more realistic and easy for users to understand and which actually assist and advance user security.

Lessons for Google

Takedown – Looking at some of the comments from users on the Super Mario game, it is pretty clear people aren’t happy, with people mentioning the word virus, scam etc. The game has been up there since April – at the end of May, why haven’t Google done anything about it? The game doesn’t seem to be official, so it is highly likely to be in breach of Nintendo’s copyright. Again, why is this allowed in the Chrome web store? Is there any policing at all of the web store? Do Google respond to user reports of potentially malicious applications in a timely manner?

Permissions and Access – You should not have to open up permissions to your entire browsing history for an application to open a new tab! This is really, really bad security and privacy design.

Given what is happening with the evident permissiveness of Android and the Chrome web store, Google would do well to sit up and start looking some better solutions otherwise they could be staring regulation in the face.

Bootnote

I mentioned this to F-Secure’s Mikko Hypponen (@mikkohypponen) on Twitter and there were some good responses from his followers. @ArdaXi quite fairly pointed out that just to open a new window, a developer needed the to allow Chrome permission to access ‘Your browsing history’ (as discussed above). @JakeLSlater made the point that “google seem to be suggesting content not their responsibility, surely if hosted in CWS it has to be?” – I’m inclined to agree, they have at least some degree of responsibility if they are promoting it to users.

I notice that Google seem to have removed the offending application from the web store too. I think this followed MSNBC’s great article ‘Super Mario’ runs amok in Chrome Web app store after they picked up on my link through Mikko. I think it may be fair to say that the extension has been judged malicious.

Android@Home – Now I’ll hack your house (part 2)

So in part one I introduced some of the reasons why home control hasn’t been a mass-market success, here I’ll discuss some of the potential uses and then cover some security points.

Uses of Home Control

To get your minds in gear, I’ve listed out some possible (and existing uses of home control). The idea of Android@Home will be to bring all this together. I’m guessing people are going to need to buy more network switches in their homes!

  • Curtain and window blind control
  • Electrical outlet control (timers and on/off)
  • TV control
  • Lighting control
  • Home CCTV
  • Burglar alarm
  • Motion sensors
  • Child monitoring
  • Garden lights
  • Pond waterfall and fountain pumps
  • Bath level monitors
  • Home cinemas
  • Thermostats and heating
  • Smart meters
  • White goods monitoring and control (fridges, cookers, washing machines etc.)
  • Doorbells

By Google open-sourcing the platform, this creates a defacto standard for people to kick-start the home control industry. If you look a bit deeper, the technology is a combination of a wireless protocol from Google and a hardware Accessory Developer Kit based on Arduino which means you can access USB devices too. Their software project is on Google Code . Arduino also have a ‘lilypad’ range  for wearable applications. This could even further extend the applications for Android@Home. There are some interesting Arduino projects around, including a combination door lock. I can see how Near Field Communication (NFC), touch tech fits into all of this, but not so much machine-to-machine (M2M) technology, but in theory it could easily be interfaced. The real cleverness in all of this will be in mashing up the data and applications – mood lighting for music, intelligent context based decision making – e.g. I am the only person in the house so switch to home monitor mode when I leave. I believe this will fly because home control has been quite a popular geek project with various methods tried by people such as PSP home controllers.

Security

Clearly, this technology is a hugely attractive target to hackers, good and bad. Being able to find out what your neighbours are up to is going to mean there is a generic consumer market for attacking these systems. This is bad news for your home network.

 
“you are relying on the developer to get it right”
 

Existing problems with Android Market come down to malicious software that has slipped through and plain old bad coding from developers. With home control solutions, you are relying on the developer to get it right. Not only for security, but also for safety. This is an untested area so is probably not completely covered by regulation but I would certainly be worried about my oven accidentally over-cooking something by 12 hours. Many of the goods that are produced with wireless control are going to have their own local safety interlocks but an intentional malicious attack or exploit to vulnerabilities with particular manufacturers could cause chaos. Suddenly your house has become part of critical national infrastructure! Imagine an attacker turning everything on in every house in the UK that was connected? It could easily bring down the national grid. The existence of a botnet of houses could be used to blackmail governments. Wireless, device and perimeter security are the main issues that need to be considered. A lot of this technology is built around the web, which in my view is simply not secure, nor web-runtimes robust enough for these kinds of critical applications.

At a much lower level, if burglars could remotely access your home control system, they could shut off all your security and lights enabling a much easier burglary. Conversely, it can be argued that the user is in much more control, so if their house is burgled in the middle of the day (the majority are), the user can be alerted immediately. This in itself may not be enough to prevent the burglary, but the simple fact that this function exists increases the chance of the burglar being caught. The deterrent that this creates could actually reduce burglary.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/2/2c/Safety_glass_vandalised_20050526_062_part.jpg/800px-Safety_glass_vandalised_20050526_062_part.jpg

One other low level crime which could increase is handset theft. More people lose phones than have them stolen, but by putting home control onto the phone (perhaps it’s an NFC lock to the house too), you are making the user much more of a target.

I could go on and talk about other things such as further loss of privacy – think about the mountain of data Google will be sat on about your habits. There are some other projects which are studying this area – the internet of things. The EU-funded webinos project is also looking at the dangers of connecting real, physical things to the internet and how that can be secured, it’ll be an interesting one to watch. Wait for Google to make their next move in this space – automotive.

Android@Home – Now I’ll hack your house (part 1)

Very exciting news from Google I/O in San Francisco. Android@Home has been announced, a logical move and one which I would wager will be highly successful. With Google TV set to emerge in homes this year and a plan by Google to merge their phone, tablet and Google TV code into one build codenamed “Ice Cream Sandwich” at the end of the year, the company seem well positioned to take on home control. Google TV offers users the ability to control their TV from their Android phone amongst plenty of other features. This basic feature, to use your phone as a remote control for the TV has been something that users have been crying out for for years, with nobody paying any real attention to it. I do remember a great program called Nevo on the iPAQ on which you could control masses of IR equipment. I gained much amusement from changing the TV in the pub and works canteen to the confusion of the staff there.

Cost, Complexity and Fragmentation

Yet home control has never really caught-on. I put this down to a number of factors (which the mobile industry is well used to hearing): fragmentation, cost and complexity. The three factors have combined so far to prevent the market maturing in any sensible way. Yes, there are home control systems out there, but they are all pretty much proprietary. I’ve been considering whether to do some home control for years but the components are over-priced and I can’t interface with them with my own software. Take the example of a remote controlled socket kit from the UK’s B&Q or the control for remote lighting . Everything needs its own remote control. We want to use our mobiles! No doubt this is true of the designers and manufacturers of these products too, which is why I think Android@Home is going to be a roaring success. Others such as Bose may continue to sell the whole integrated system, continuing to target the niche high-end market but ultimately market forces will probably force them to ditch their proprietary system.

Setting up IP cameras in your home now also involves putting some software on your PC. A lot of users have switched to much better open source solutions such as iSpy just because of the poor quality and complexity of the setup of the proprietary (or badged) PC software.

So, in summary, as a normal person I don’t want to pay loads of money, I don’t want it to be difficult to setup and I want to run everything from the same software on my mobile phone.

In part 2, I will discuss some of the uses and why security is critical.