Threats Facing Android

In Common ByRyan Farmer / 22nd November 2011

In a very recent article on PC World’s website, Eric Geier wrote that 2012 will see a rise in information security threats, aided, in part, by the ubiquity of mobile devices – smartphones, tablets and laptops for example – as well as the growing and sustainable popularity of social networks. Cybercrime is going to become a very pressing issue indeed.

Moreover, a new study by McAfee, suggests that Android is now the number one attacked mobile platform out there.

With that in mind, we thought we’d give some of you professionals working in forensics, governance and compliance, and information security and risk management a lowdown as to some of the major threats – and vulnerabilities – facing devices using Android.

Third party applications are one of the best things about using Android – the open source nature of it allows for widespread innovation and development, providing consumers and businesses alike with a huge variety of choices. Naturally, established names imply a certain level of tacit trust – you’re confident that you’re getting a reliable product – whereas unfamiliar names bring a level of uncertainty – you’ve got nothing to weigh it up against. Because the open source environment is defined by the sheer volume of developers and products out there, it can be a tough maze to navigate through.

Similarly, Google’s own casual mantra, their guiding company philosophy of openness and close collaboration, though commendable brings certain, obvious weaknesses that is, in comparison to say Apple, a major shortfall. Take for example the verification process for applicants wanting to enter the Android market – in the last two years a number of apps, approved and available to users, have come with malware-infections. This is a major area that needs addressing.

Other things to be wary of include privacy settings. Though we may live in an age of ‘over-candidness’, where people reveal odd little titbits on sites like Facebook and Twitter, privacy is still a right worth protecting. However, in some cases, there are transparent weaknesses already built into certain devices. HTC devices, for example, automatically geo-tag photos and Tweets – you actively have to disable this feature. Consequently, other devices alleging localised services could, rather worryingly, sneakily utilise GPS permissions for location tracking. And of course there is the much publicised data collection and exposure on the company’s Sensation and Evo range.

One of the biggest risks is the easy access to a virtual private network (VPN), which many businesses and employees use remotely, providing an easy mobile working environment. Which is great for increased connectivity and in promoting flexible working, but also a route for cybercriminals to infiltrate corporate networks surreptitiously and either introduce corrupt software or thieve important data.

The threats are very real but there are measures in place to help protect Android uses. We’ll be discussing that in our next post. In the meantime for further reading check out the Acumin white paper on Android security: http://www.acumin.co.uk/cm/content/resources/white_papers