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Android Security

One Billion Android Devices Open To Privilege Escalation 117

Posted by timothy
from the that's-beeeeeellion dept.
msm1267 (2804139) writes "The first deep look into the security of the Android patch installation process, specifically its Package Management Service (PMS), has revealed a weakness that puts potentially every Android device at risk for privilege escalation attacks. Researchers from Indiana University and Microsoft published a paper that describes a new set of Android vulnerabilities they call Pileup flaws, and also introduces a new scanner called SecUP that detects malicious apps already on a device lying in wait for elevated privileges. The vulnerability occurs in the way PMS handles updates to the myriad flavors of Android in circulation today. The researchers say PMS improperly vets apps on lower versions of Android that request OS or app privileges that may not exist on the older Android version, but are granted automatically once the system is updated.

The researchers said they found a half-dozen different Pileup flaws within Android's Package Management Service, and confirmed those vulnerabilities are present in all Android Open Source Project versions and more than 3,500 customized versions of Android developed by handset makers and carriers; more than one billion Android devices are likely impacted, they said."
Handily enough, the original paper is not paywalled.
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One Billion Android Devices Open To Privilege Escalation

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  • Nope (Score:5, Informative)

    by AmiMoJo (196126) * <mojo@NOspaM.world3.net> on Saturday March 22, 2014 @07:57PM (#46554559) Homepage

    What the summary fails to explain properly is that this vulnerability only works with permissions that are new when the device gets an OS update. Say you install an app and it asks for permission to use NFC, but your device's OS is old and doesn't support NFC (pre 4.0 I think). You install it anyway. Then you upgrade the OS and now it supports NFC. The app then gets the NFC permission without any further prompts or warning to the user.

    That is certainly an issue, but not the huge gaping security flaw the summary makes it sound like. Apps can only ask for normal permissions that the OS offers, not bypass security or the sandbox. It's basically a UI issue.

  • Re:Nope (Score:5, Informative)

    by alostpacket (1972110) on Sunday March 23, 2014 @01:43PM (#46557929) Homepage

    I wonder, though. When you buy a new Android phone and sign in to Play, it downloads (or at least offers to) all the apps you had on your old phone. Does the same thing happen there

    No, this particular exploit requires the malicious app be on a phone prior to an OS update. Additionally these apps would never* make it on the Play store as they have detectable characteristics (such as trying to use the same "Shared UID" of another app). In order to upload an app with the same Shared UID, you would need the same keystore to sign your app. Basically the way this bug works is exploiting the reverse of how the package manager grants precedence. The package manager give precedence to what is on the device first. So anything "updated" from the Play store, even if they spoofed the Shared UID and signature, would fail to install. The bug is that an app can "steal" the ability to control the permission completely, AND install itself or block the install of the legit version of an app.

    So TL;DR: This definitely is a rather nasty privilege escalation bug in the package manager (if the paper is correct and I am reading it correctly), but one would likely need to side-load (or use a different app store) the malicious app prior to an OS update to get caught by it.

    Agreed about permissions in general though. Personally I try not to give out contacts to any app unless they happen to be a type of "contact manager/replacement". Most apps can request a user use the default "contact picker" to add a contact, or share, or the like. No permission is required for this. The only reason apps request this is to prefill those "share with a friend" fields and to spam. This is similar to READ_PHONE_STATE, there are few legit reasons for an app to need this anymore. Apps can launch the dialer and prefill the number sans the permission, just not complete the call. They also have other ways to generate a UUID for the device without the IMEI, or the other info provided by READ_PHONE_STATE.

    The USB storage permissions are antiquated, but not as sensitive. Apps do have private storage but this used to be quite limited in the earlier days of Android. The Nexus S was one of the first to come with a single, large internal storage (although even that was still partitioned). Prior to that you had a limited protected storage and an SD card. Nowadays they are adding better "Read" file permissions.

    Finally, I think much of this stuff could be requested at time-of-use, rather than install. But they have to balance the "Are you sure you want to allow X?" disaster that was Windows UAC vs. sensible permissions. It is not as easy as it looks.

    * (Well maybe not never, but very close to never...)

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