Mobile banking apps in developing nations have weak security

Attackers could already be using software vulnerabilities to steal money

Mobile banking apps in developing countries have a variety of software flaws that could pose risks to consumers, according to a new research paper.

Mobile banking apps in developing countries have a variety of software flaws that could pose risks to consumers, according to a new research paper.

The developing world is increasingly using mobile banking apps to move money, but new research shows those apps are often poorly coded and pose security risks.

Researchers with the University of Florida looked at dozens of apps used for mobile money systems but extensively analyzed seven that have millions of users in Brazil, India, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines.

The problems they found represent a large attack surface, including SSL/TLS issues, botched cryptography, information leakage and opportunities to manipulate transactions and modify financial records.

The impact of the problems is unknown, but "it is possible that these apps are already being exploited in the wild, leaving consumers with no recourse to dispute financial transactions," according to their research paper, to be presented on Wednesday at the 24th USENIX Security Symposium in Washington, D.C.

So-called "branchless" banking systems using mobile apps have revolutionized banking in developing countries, where the poor have long suffered from difficult access to traditional banking systems, they wrote.

In some countries, branchless banking apps are used for 30 percent of some nations' GDP, relying on the near universal deployment of cellular network and mobile devices.

The apps can let people send money to others, pay their bills, check account balances and buy airtime credits.

While the convenience is unparalleled for the developing world, the research paper shows that security is often lagging. Complicating the problem is that the terms of service for many services shift the liability to customers if there's a problem, they wrote.

"Providers must not marry such vulnerable systems with a liability model that refuses to take responsibility for the technical flaws, and these realities could prevent sustained growth of branchless banking," they wrote.

One app in India called the Oxigen Wallet is vulnerable to a man-in-the-middle attack. Poor authentication and cryptography could allow an attacker to compromise an Oxigen account and conduct unauthorized transactions.

GCash, used in the Philippines, uses a static encryption key when communicating with a remote server. A user's PIN and session ID are encrypted with the key, which is public, before being sent.

"An attacker with this key can decrypt the user's PIN and session ID if the encrypted data is captured," they wrote. "This can subsequently give the attacker the ability to impersonate the user."

They also found problems with Airtel Money and MoneyOnMobile, both used in India, mPAY of Thailand, Zuum of Brazil and mCoin of Indonesia.

All of the services were notified of the vulnerabilities before the publication deadline of the research paper, they wrote.

"Most have not sent any response to our disclosures," the paper said. "We have chosen to publicly disclose these vulnerabilities in this paper out of an obligation to inform users of the risks they face in using these insecure services."

The paper was co-authored by Bradley Reaves, Nolen Scaife, Adam Bates, Patrick Traynor and Kevin R.B. Butler.

Send news tips and comments to jeremy_kirk@idg.com. Follow me on Twitter: @jeremy_kirk

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags USENIXsecuritymobile securityUniversity of Florida

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jeremy Kirk

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Crucial Ballistix Elite 32GB Kit (4 x 8GB) DDR4-3000 UDIMM

Learn more >

Gadgets & Things

Lexar® Professional 1000x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Family Friendly

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Plox Star Wars Death Star Levitating Bluetooth Speaker

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

GGG Evaluation Team

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Steph Mundell

LIFEBOOK UH574

The Fujitsu LifeBook UH574 allowed for great mobility without being obnoxiously heavy or clunky. Its twelve hours of battery life did not disappoint.

Andrew Mitsi

STYLISTIC Q702

The screen was particularly good. It is bright and visible from most angles, however heat is an issue, particularly around the Windows button on the front, and on the back where the battery housing is located.

Simon Harriott

STYLISTIC Q702

My first impression after unboxing the Q702 is that it is a nice looking unit. Styling is somewhat minimalist but very effective. The tablet part, once detached, has a nice weight, and no buttons or switches are located in awkward or intrusive positions.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?