Security Market Segment LS
Monday, 25 November 2019 16:56

Mobile attackers aim at people, not their devices: claim

By
BlackBerry Cylance chief evangelist Brian Robison BlackBerry Cylance chief evangelist Brian Robison

Attackers are preying on users' assumption that legitimate app stores protect them from security issues, a security firm claims.

People are "cavalier" about mobile apps, BlackBerry Cylance chief evangelist Brian Robison told iTWire. They are happy to try them out, whereas they are much more cautious about installing software on their notebook and desktop systems.

Attackers are taking advantage of this false sense of security, which may have resulted from frequent admonishments to obtain software only from major app stores including Google Play and Apple's App Store.

App stores exist to protect their operators' revenue, not their customers' security, Robison argued.

The rules don't forbid malicious apps, so it is permissible for (eg) a flashlight app to ask permission to access contacts, location, microphone and so on.

"That's how we see these things [malicious apps] get on the public app stores... [they] meet the checkbox requirements," he said.

Another problem is that after being installed, apps can download 'data' that is actually code that changes their behaviour.

"Games do it all the time," explained Robison, but it can also be done with malicious intent. So an app can be benign when being checked by the app store operator, only to become a hazard after being installed on thousands or even millions of devices.

"The attackers are really good at attacking us as humans" by convincing us that the value of an app is so great that we will take risks such as sideloading apps or granting excessive rights to a newly-installed app (why does that flashlight app need to access the microphone?).

They are hacking us because it can be easier than hacking our devices, he observed. "We [users] have become so cavalier about our privacy that we are the biggest risk."

It's not just criminals who are taking advantage of such behaviour: "we're bugging ourselves" in a way that governments can exploit.

The trouble is, "we [security vendors] can't stop the user from doing things," because although sandboxing helps keep apps away from each others' data (and in the process "it creates really stupid interactions between apps") it also makes it impossible for security software to detect suspicious behaviour, as is commonly done by desktop security software.

Nor can security vendors offer tools to prevent the installation of apps that are known to be malicious. All they can really do is collect information and report on it.

So BlackBerry takes a different tack. one that's designed to protect corporate data. If a device is out of compliance (eg, the OS isn't up to date, or one or more known-bad apps are installed), corporate data protected by BlackBerry cannot be decrypted on that device.

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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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