Ads in mobile apps could pose privacy, security risks

   Mar 20, 3:36 pm

Washington, March 20 (ANI): Including ads in mobile applications poses privacy and security risks because they offer a way for hackers to bypass existing security efforts, researchers have revealed.

In a recent study of 100,000 apps in the official Google Play market, the North Carolina State University researchers noticed that more than half contained so-called ad libraries and 297 of the apps included aggressive ad libraries that were enabled to download and run code from remote servers - which raises significant privacy and security concerns.

"Running code downloaded from the Internet is problematic because the code could be anything," said Dr. Xuxian Jiang, an assistant professor of computer science at NC State and co-author of a paper describing the work.

"For example, it could potentially launch a 'root exploit' attack to take control of your phone - as demonstrated in a recently discovered piece of Android malware called RootSmart," Jiang cited.

In Google Play (formerly known as the Android Market) and other markets, many developers offer free apps.

To generate revenue, these app developers incorporate "in-app ad libraries," which are provided by Google, Apple or other third-parties.

These ad libraries retrieve advertisements from remote servers and run the ads on a user's smartphone periodically. Every time an ad runs, the app developer receives a payment.

This poses potential problems because the ad libraries receive the same permissions that the user granted to the app itself when it was installed - regardless of whether the user was aware he or she was granting permissions to the ad library.

Jiang's team looked at a sample of 100,000 apps available on Google Play between March and May 2011 and examined the 100 representative ad libraries used by those apps.

One significant find was that 297 of the apps (1 out of every 337 apps) used ad libraries "that made use of an unsafe mechanism to fetch and run code from the Internet - a behaviour that is not necessary for their mission, yet has troubling privacy and security implications," Jiang stated.

But that is only the most extreme example.

Jiang's team found that 48,139 of the apps (1 in 2.1) had ad libraries that track a user's location via GPS, presumably to allow an ad library to better target ads to the user.

However, 4,190 apps (1 in 23.4) used ad libraries that also allowed advertisers themselves to access a user's location via GPS. Other information accessed by some ad libraries included call logs, user phone numbers and lists of all the apps a user has stored on his or her phone.

These ad libraries pose security risks because they offer a way for third parties - including hackers - to bypass existing Android security efforts. Specifically, the app itself may be harmless, so it won't trigger any security concerns. But the app's ad library may download harmful or invasive code after installation.

"To limit exposure to these risks, we need to isolate ad libraries from apps and make sure they don't have the same permissions," Jiang suggested.

"The current model of directly embedding ad libraries in mobile apps does make it convenient for app developers, but also fundamentally introduces privacy and security risks. The best solution would be for Google, Apple and other mobile platform providers to take the lead in providing effective ad-isolation mechanisms," the researchers added.

The findings will be presented at the 5th ACM Conference on Security and Privacy in Wireless and Mobile Networks in Tucson. (ANI)

Now, software that will provide 'world-class' security to small businesses Apr 27, 1:22 pm
New Delhi, April 27 (ANI): Now, a software will provide world-class protection to businesses with fewer than 25 employees, without the need for specialist IT skills, making it easier to focus valuable resources on running and developing the business while keeping operations, customer's and employee's data secure.
Full Story
Nokia dismisses rumours that it's reentering mobile market Apr 27, 11:48 am
Washington, April 27 (ANI): Week after reports claimed that Nokia was planning to make a comeback to the consumer mobile market as early as next year, the Finnish company has stepped up to dismiss those claims publically.
Full Story
Google reopens Person Finder tool in wake of 7.9 magnitude earthquake in Nepal Apr 26, 4:39 pm
Washington, Apr. 26 (ANI): Google has opened up its Person Finder tool in the wake of the 7.9 magnitude earthquake that hit Kathmandu in Nepal yesterday.
Full Story
Android users can now send directions, notes from desktop to phones via Google search Apr 26, 4:39 pm
Washington, Apr. 26 (ANI): Google has rolled out a new feature wherein users can easily send directions, notes, reminders and more directly from Google search on the desktop to their Android phones.
Full Story
Comments

LATEST STORIES
TOP VIDEO STORIES
PHOTO GALLERY