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Update: Researchers discover dangerous ways computer worms are spreading among smartphones

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Posted April 11, 2014

Scanning 2D barcodes, finding free Wi-Fi access points, sending SMS messages, listening to music, and watching MP4 videos: these are very common activities that we do using our smartphones. Can you imagine that simply doing these things can get your smartphones infected with “worms” that can not only steal personal information from your phone, but also infect your friend’s phones.

It will not be long before worms like this spread among smartphones. What makes the attacks feasible is an emerging technology called HTML5-based app development, and it has been rapidly gaining popularity in the mobile industry. When the adoption of this technology reaches certain threshold, attacks like this will become quite common, unless we do something to stop it. A recent Gartner report says that by 2016, fifty percent of the mobile apps will be using HTML5-based technologies.

A notorious problem of the HTML5-based technology is that malicious code can be easily injected into the program and get executed. That is why the Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) attack is still one of the most common attacks in the Web. XSS attacks can only target at web applications through a single channel (i.e. the Internet), but with the adoption of the same technology in mobile devices, we have found out that a similar type of attack can not only be launched against mobile apps, it can attack from many channels, including 2D barcode, Wi-Fi scanning, Bluetooth pairing, MP3 songs, MP4 videos, SMS messages, NFC tags, Contact list, etc. As long as an HTML5-based app displays information obtained from outside or from another app, it may be a potential victim.

What Makes an App Vulnerable :

First, this app should be based on the HTML5-based technology, i.e., its code (or part of its code) is written in JavaScript. If the app is written using the language native to the platform (e.g. Java for Andrid and Object-C for iOS), it is immune to this type of attacks.

Second, there should exists a channel for the app to receive data from outside. The data can be from outside of the device (such as scanning 2D barcode) or from another app on the same device (such as the Contact list).

Third, the app needs to display the information from outside. The choice of the APIs to display the information is critical. Some APIs are safe, but many of them are not.

 

How the Attack Works :

 

 

 via BC

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