Android needs a chastity belt
After spending three hours yesterday watching the Google I/O 2010 keynote addresses, I was pretty upbeat about Google and Android. I was really impressed with the innovation and the execution of ideas. Unfortunately, all of that was overshadowed when I learned about the latest Android spyware discovery presented at Black Hat. Story here.
From a development standpoint, Android’s open platform is a good thing. It allows developers to do some amazing things with the technology and bring some very impressive applications into the mobile marketplace. But as many of us know, it’s also an open invitation for hackers to “have their way” with the phone and the user community’s information.
As Infosanity pointed out in his post about the C.I.A triangle, there needs to be a balance between functionality, ease of use and security, but this latest disclosure about Android insecurity is totally unacceptable. But this is nothing compared to what a true criminal mastermind can do with the Android. The possibilities are mind boggling.
Let’s say a hacker installs a spyware application to leverage the GPS capabilities of the phone to track where you live (evening hours), where you work or go to school (day hours) and where you are on the weekends. A hacker can pass this information onto a group that burglarizes homes and before you know it, all your valuables are stolen. Or let’s say someone stalks you, your child or wife with this capability. Photos and text messages can also reveal a lot of information about a person’s life and habits. If you don’t think it’s possible, then you really don’t understand the technology or the criminal mind. A region specific application would be perfect to disguise such nefarious data collection activities. Even an unattended phone can fall victim to a manual spyware install.
Google and the Open Handset Alliance really need to rethink the permissions security model, how application permissions requests are presented to the user, what information should be accessible to applications and perhaps incorporate an audit log option to allow users to review what information applications are accessing and transmitting.
It is painfully obvious that the current process and mechanisms for identifying malicious applications (and perhaps subsequent upgrades) are inadequate. Something need to be done about the situation – and soon.