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    Security researchers from Bluebox Labs recently uncovered a vulnerability that may allow malicious apps to impersonate legitimate ones. This vulnerability, dubbed as “FakeID,” is involved with the checking of certificate signatures to prove the legitimacy of applications. What makes this highly notable is that all Android devices running on platforms starting from Android 2.1 (“Éclair”) to 4.4 (“KitKat”) are affected by this vulnerability.

    Certificates and Signatures

    Android applications must be “signed” before they are published and released for installation. Signing apps involves the use of certificates. Like the HTTP/SSL certificate model, app certificates are issued by trusted certificate authorities. The certificates are used to ensure the integrity of the application after its release, to avoid any tampering from attackers. These certificates are used by the app as its “package signature.” These signatures are used by Android to identify applications.

    How does Android go about assigning these signatures? For every app installed on the device, a class called PackageInfo is created to profile the app. PackageInfo contains a property, called “signatures,” which plays an important role for apps. With the same signatures, one application can work as another app’s update package, or two apps can share their data with each other (as some form of shared mechanism). In some special cases, Android can decide if it will grant privileges to an application by comparing if the app has the same signatures in its “signatures” property as the signatures hardcoded in the Android source code.

    Bluebox Labs cited two examples of how this works. One example is payment-related apps being allowed to access the NFC SE hardware of a mobile device because these have the signatures specified in the device’s NFC-related file. Another is an app being allowed to act as a webview plugin (for example, Adobe Flash plugin) for other apps because the app has the signature of Adobe Systems.

    Flaws in the Certificate Chain

    Once an app is installed in a device, the Android platform creates its PackageInfo signatures by creating a certificate chain using the app’s certificate file. However, because of the vulnerability, Android does not verify the authenticity of the certificate chain. It will only rely on the correspondence between the signer certificate’s “Subject” and the signed certificate’s “Issuer.” Unfortunately, these two are clear text string type, which can be easily forged by malicious individuals.

    Exploiting the Vulnerability

    Because the vulnerability deals with the “authenticity” of apps, cybercriminals can create malicious apps that will be able to access sensitive data without arousing any suspicion. For example, NFC-related payments often use Google Wallet. If a malicious app is granted NFC privilege, it will be able to steal the user’s Google Wallet account information, replace designated payment accounts, and steal the user’s money.

    A malicious app can also take advantage of the Webkit plugin privilege, provided it has the associated permission and the required signature. The app will automatically run as a Webkit plugin process whenever the victim browses a site using a browser app or uses other applications that require a webview component. Because the malware is running as a component process inside the browser (or other applications using webview), the malware has almost complete control over the application’s data. All related data such as user credentials, bank account, and email details can be accessed, leaked, or tampered.

    Majority of Android Users Affected

    As we stated earlier, all Android devices without patches from OEM vendors are affected by this vulnerability. Current data from Google shows that the devices running on the affected platforms represent around 82% of all Android devices. The large number of affected Android users echoes that of the master key vulnerability discovered last year.

    Google has released a fix for this bug. However, the fragmentation of the Android ecosystem means that not all users might be able to have their devices protected against this vulnerability. Should the update become available, we advise users to immediately update their devices.

    Google has issued a statement saying that they have “scanned all applications submitted to Google Play as well as those Google has reviewed from outside of Google Play, and…have seen no evidence of attempted exploitation of this vulnerability.”

    To protect our users, we are watching out for possible threats and attacks that may take advantage of this vulnerability. Apps that take advantage of this vulnerability are detected as ANDROIDOS_FAKEID.A.

    With additional insight from Veo Zhang.





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