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Feature stops apps from stealing phone users’ passwords

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Posted June 27, 2013
This screenshot of an Android phone shows the selection phone users have when logging into apps with ScreenPass. Credit: Landon Cox, Duke.

This screenshot of an Android phone shows the selection phone users have when logging into apps with ScreenPass. Credit: Landon Cox, Duke.

Imagine downloading a NetFlix app to your phone so that you can watch movies on the go. You would expect the app to request your account’s username and password the first time it runs. Most apps do.

But, not all apps are what they appear to be. They can steal log-in and password information. In 2011, researchers at North Carolina State University discovered a convincing imitation of the real Netflix app that forwarded users’ login details to an untrusted server. And, in June, the security firm F-Secure discovered a malicious, fake version of the popular game “Bad Piggies” in the Google Play Store.

Attacks like these are rare, said Duke computer scientist Landon Cox, but, “we will likely see more of them in the future.” To protect users against the threat of malicious apps, Cox and his team have built ScreenPass. ScreenPass adds new features to an Android phone’s operating system to prevent malicious apps from stealing a user’s passwords.

“Passwords are a critical glue between mobile apps and remote cloud services,” Cox said. “The problem right now is that users have no idea what happens to the passwords they give to their apps.”

This is where ScreenPass comes in. It provides a special-purpose software keyboard for users to securely enter sensitive text such as passwords. An area below the keyboard allows users to tell ScreenPass where they want their text sent, such as Google, Facebook, or Twitter. ScreenPass then tracks a users’ password data as the app runs and notifies the user if an app tries to send a password to the wrong place.

ScreenPass guarantees that users always input passwords through the secure keyboard. It does this by using computer vision to periodically scan the screen for untrusted keyboards.

Read more at: Phys.org

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