Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

New approach uncovers data abuse on mobile end devices

05.07.2012
Increasingly often, mobile applications on web-enabled mobile phones and tablet computers do more than they appear to.

In secrecy, the “apps” forward private data to a third party. Computer scientists from Saarbrücken have developed a new approach to prevent this data abuse. They can put a stop to the data theft through the app “SRT AppGuard”.

The chief attraction: For the protection to work, it is not necessary to identify the suspicious programs in advance, nor must the operating system be changed. Instead, the freely available app attacks the program code of the digital spies.

“My smartphone knows everything about me, starting with my name, my phone number, my e-mail address, my interests, up to my current location,” explains computer science professor Michael Backes, who manages the Center for IT-Security, Privacy and Accountability at Saarland University. “It even knows my friends quite well, as it saves their contact details, too,” says Backes. Therefore he is not surprised that several mobile applications, also known as apps, display simple functionality up front, while in the background, they send the identification number of the device, the personal whereabouts of the user, or even the contact details of friends, colleagues and customers to a server somewhere in the internet.

The producers of anti-virus software have been making vivid predictions of such scenarios for some time now; in the meantime, scientific studies also prove the threat. A study from the University of California in Santa Barbara (US) concluded that among 825 examined apps for the iPhone and its operating system iOS, 21 percent forward the ID number, four percent the current position, and 0.5 percent even copy the address book.

Michael Backes and his team of researchers now bring this abuse to an end. Their approach focuses on Android. It is the most common operating system for smartphones and tablet computers. Developed by the Google software group, this freely available operating system is used by several mobile phone manufacturers, and since November 2011 is activated daily on more than 700,000 devices.

However, Android is known for its rigorous policy on assignment of privileges. If a user wants to install a downloaded app, he learns via a list which access rights to data (location, contacts, photos) and functions (Internet, locating) will be claimed by that app. Now he has two options: Either he accepts all conditions, or the app will not be installed. After the installation, the privileges cannot be revoked. “Moreover, many developers generally claim all rights for their app because the concept of privileges of Android is misleading, but they want to ensure the smooth functioning of their app nevertheless,” explains Philipp von Styp-Rekowsky, PhD student at the chair in IT security and cryptography.

This “sink-or-swim” strategy is put to rest by the researcher from Saarbrücken. The app “SRT AppGuard” based on their approach determines, for every application installed on a smartphone, what it accesses, and shows this information to the user. Privileges can now be revoked or granted to the respective app at any time. The researchers have already published the app on the platform “Google Play”. It can be downloaded there for free. It runs problem-free on Android 3.x.x and higher. The development of the app has been taken on by the enterprise Backes SRT, which was founded by Backes in 2010. It is also located on the campus in Saarbrücken.

Computer Science on the Saarland University Campus
Apart from the Saarland University chair in computer science and the Center for IT-Security, Privacy and Accountability, the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence, the Max Planck Institute for Computer Science, the Max Planck Institute for Software Systems, the Center for Bioinformatics, the Intel Visual Computing Institute and the Cluster of Excellence on “Multimodal Computing and Interaction” can also be found there.
Technical background

For their approach, the Saarbrücken researchers use the fact that the Android apps work in a so-called virtual machine, which is written in the computer language Java. Therefore the apps are saved on the smartphone as executable “bytecode” after installation. That’s when SRT AppGuard comes into play. While the suspicious app is running, it is checking its bytecode for the security-sensitive instructions, which it had been programmed to do by the experts from Saarbrücken. It adds a special control code in front of the suspect comment or procedure. This is only necessary once, as the secured bytecode replaces the original one afterwards. This overwriting process usually only takes a few seconds and a small number of lines of additional code. The computer scientists have reviewed 13 apps, among them the popular game “Angry Birds”, the music identifying app “Shazam” and the social-media apps “Facebook” and “What’s app”. For the app belonging to the microblogging service Twitter, for example, it needs 16.7 seconds and 48 additional lines of code. “It is just as in an art museum ,” explains Styp-Rekoswky, “Instead of checking every visitor, you only provide the most valuable paintings with an invisible alarm function.”

But the Saarbrücken app can do even more than just providing alerts. It is also able to block suspicious requests or change them so they cannot do any harm. “Thus, we can also prevent the use of known security vulnerabilities of the respective apps or Android operating system,” adds Professor Michael Backes. This possibility is very important if the manufacturer cannot provide security fixes in time,” says the professor.

See also:
The App on Google Play Store
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.srt.appguard.mobile

Michael Backes, Sebastian Gerling, Christian Hammer, Matteo Maffei and Philipp von Styp-Rekowsky: The Android Monitor – Real-time policy enforcement for third-party applications

http://www.infsec.cs.uni-saarland.de/projects/android-monitor/android-monitor.pdf


Center for IT-Security, Privacy and Accountability (CISPA)
http://www.cispa-security.de

For further information please contact:

Professor Dr. Michael Backes
Chair CISPA
Phone: +49 681 302-3259
E-Mail: backes@cispa.uni-saarland.de

Sebastian Gerling
Administrative manager CISPA
Phone: +49 681 302-57373
E-Mail: sgerling@cispa.uni-saarland.de

Editing:

Gordon Bolduan

Scientific Communicator
Phone: +49 681 302-70741
E-Mail: gbolduan@mmci.uni-saarland.de

Saar - Uni - Presseteam | Universität des Saarlandes
Further information:
http://www.uni-saarland.de

More articles from Information Technology:

nachricht New Foldable Drone Flies through Narrow Holes in Rescue Missions
12.12.2018 | Universität Zürich

nachricht NIST's antenna evaluation method could help boost 5G network capacity and cut costs
11.12.2018 | National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

All articles from Information Technology >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Lethal combination: Drug cocktail turns off the juice to cancer cells

A widely used diabetes medication combined with an antihypertensive drug specifically inhibits tumor growth – this was discovered by researchers from the University of Basel’s Biozentrum two years ago. In a follow-up study, recently published in “Cell Reports”, the scientists report that this drug cocktail induces cancer cell death by switching off their energy supply.

The widely used anti-diabetes drug metformin not only reduces blood sugar but also has an anti-cancer effect. However, the metformin dose commonly used in the...

Im Focus: New Foldable Drone Flies through Narrow Holes in Rescue Missions

A research team from the University of Zurich has developed a new drone that can retract its propeller arms in flight and make itself small to fit through narrow gaps and holes. This is particularly useful when searching for victims of natural disasters.

Inspecting a damaged building after an earthquake or during a fire is exactly the kind of job that human rescuers would like drones to do for them. A flying...

Im Focus: Topological material switched off and on for the first time

Key advance for future topological transistors

Over the last decade, there has been much excitement about the discovery, recognised by the Nobel Prize in Physics only two years ago, that there are two types...

Im Focus: Researchers develop method to transfer entire 2D circuits to any smooth surface

What if a sensor sensing a thing could be part of the thing itself? Rice University engineers believe they have a two-dimensional solution to do just that.

Rice engineers led by materials scientists Pulickel Ajayan and Jun Lou have developed a method to make atom-flat sensors that seamlessly integrate with devices...

Im Focus: Three components on one chip

Scientists at the University of Stuttgart and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) succeed in important further development on the way to quantum Computers.

Quantum computers one day should be able to solve certain computing problems much faster than a classical computer. One of the most promising approaches is...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

ICTM Conference 2019: Digitization emerges as an engineering trend for turbomachinery construction

12.12.2018 | Event News

New Plastics Economy Investor Forum - Meeting Point for Innovations

10.12.2018 | Event News

EGU 2019 meeting: Media registration now open

06.12.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

New discoveries predict ability to forecast dementia from single molecule

12.12.2018 | Health and Medicine

CCNY-Yale researchers make shape shifting cell breakthrough

12.12.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Pain: Perception and motor impulses arise in the brain independently of one another

12.12.2018 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>